Subject: Indigenous Papuans Suffer Injustices, Say Catholic Reps

Catholic News Service

May 21, 2008

Indigenous Indonesians suffer injustices, say Catholic reps

By Chaz Muth, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Indigenous residents of Indonesia's Irian Jaya region suffer a multitude of injustices, from rape and murder to the pilfering of riches extracted from their island, said representatives of an Indonesian Catholic diocese.

Unsettled disputes and violent conflicts between the Indonesian government and the indigenous residents have resulted in the killing of at least 100,000 people by Indonesian security forces, said Father Cayetanus Johanes Tarong, superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Irian Jaya, also known as West Papua.

"There is murder, intimidation, terror and rapes," Father Tarong said. "Welfare meant for the people mostly goes to build the infrastructure of the corrupt governmental bureaucracy. They still don't feel safe in their own land."

The Catholic delegation met with officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops May 19. The delegation included members of the justice and peace office of the Diocese of Jayapura and Franciscans International, a Catholic international lobby group. The delegation visited Washington to seek support from U.S. Catholics and members of the U.S. Congress to help ease what they call a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Once a colony of the Netherlands, West Papua was annexed by Indonesia in 1963, and delegation members said its indigenous population of about 1.5 million endures cultural suppression, acts of violence and extreme poverty in a land that is rich with oil and copper resources.

Though the indigenous Papuans -- who live in Irian Jaya with approximately 1 million inhabitants who trace their lineage to other regions of Indonesia -- have longed to be an independent country for decades, they have come to terms with the fact that the region's natural resources are too valuable to Indonesia for them to be independent, said Frederika Korain, operational manager of the peace and justice office of the Jayapura Diocese.

The increase in identified cases of HIV/AIDS is rampant among indigenous Papuans, because educational information about the virus and how it is spread is limited and the lack of educational facilities is tragic, said Chris Duckett, a Franciscans International advocacy officer based in West Papua.

The delegation planned to spend several days meeting with members of Congress to educate them about the plight of West Papua's indigenous people and to urge them to provide the region with financial aid and mediation between the Papuans and Indonesian government. The delegation also seeks U.S. advocacy for peace in their region and the threat to cut off military assistance to the Indonesian government if it does not address the humanitarian problems.

Though the delegation asked for help to mobilize U.S. Catholics to advocate for peace in West Papua, the U.S. bishops' conference is not prepared to initiate such an effort until the Indonesian bishops' conference supports the action, said Virginia L. Farris, a foreign policy adviser for the USCCB.

Members of the delegation acknowledged they did not have the full support of all the bishops in their conference, but hoped at least one would accompany them on a U.S. trip in 2009.

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