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Papuan groups seek peace talks with Indonesia

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Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Oktober 2007


A group of pro-independence Papuans said it has asked Indonesia 's government to meet to discuss greater democracy and self-determination as well as the withdrawal of troops from the troubled, resource-rich region.

A resolution of the decades-long conflict in Papua could pave the way for Papuans to form political parties and have greater say over resources that include vast forests and huge copper and gold deposits.

The West Papua Coalition for National Liberation (WPCNL), an umbrella organisation which includes the Free Papua Movement (OPM), said it had written to Indonesia 's president, and asked for negotiations with the government to be supervised by an internationally recognised mediator.

"The pro-independence groups demand a peace dialogue with Indonesia with third-party mediators, as that will guarantee transparency," Paula Makabori, a member of the group, told Reuters.

She said that Finland, which helped broker a peace agreement between Indonesia's government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Aceh in 2005, was willing to mediate between predominantly Christian Papua and the government of the world's most populous Muslim country.

Indonesia 's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised to end decades of conflict in Papua and speed up development but critics say little has been achieved under the 2001 special autonomy agreement for Papua.

Since former President Suharto's resignation in 1998, Indonesia has been transformed from a dictatorship to a vibrant democracy and has settled two of its three main conflicts with independence for East Timor 's and greater autonomy for Aceh.

But its role in Papua, which has a population of just over 2 million people, continues to attract widespread international criticism, with human rights groups reporting abuses by the military.

"A deal means Indonesia would have to pull out the military, allow genuine democracy, international human rights monitors, an economic redistribution, and the creation of political parties," said Damien Kingsbury, an associate professor at Australia 's Deakin University , who advised on the Aceh peace talks. "Papua would be looking at creating a more democratic political environment in keeping with Indonesia 's own democratisation. That could contribute to a more secure investment climate for Papua with the support of local Papuans."

A peace agreement and increased autonomy could change how investors such as Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc - whose Grasberg mine in Papua is one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world - negotiate deals in future, Kingsbury said.

Freeport paid a total of $1.6 billion in royalties, tax and dividends in 2006 to the Indonesian government, and is the single biggest foreign taxpayer in the country.

Papua, which occupies the western half of New Guinea island, was under Dutch colonial rule until 1963 when Indonesia took over. Jakarta formalised its rule in 1969 in a vote by community leaders which was widely criticised.

"There were reports of extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment, excessive use of force during demonstrations and harassment of human rights defenders" in Papua, Amnesty International said in its 2007 report.

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