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Church leader pleads for Papua

3 April 2005

A West Papuan church leader has urged the federal government not to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in his homeland as it contemplates a new security pact with Indonesia.

The call from West Papua Baptist Church President Reverend Sofyan Yoman comes as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono arrives in Canberra for his first visit to Australia.

Rev Yoman criticised a ground-breaking security treaty Australia is preparing to sign with Indonesian and which is likely to be endorsed when Prime Minister John Howard meets with President Yudhoyono.

It is expected Australia will formally recognise Indonesia's territorial integrity and oppose any independence movements as part of the treaty.

Instead, the federal government should be prioritising "human integrity" over territorial integrity, the church leader said in Melbourne.

"They should be saying `we support human rights and integrity',' he said.

Rev Yoman said investigations by his church showed the Indonesian military has been siphoning off money from the province's Special Autonomy Fund.

The Indonesian military (TNI) had been extorting the money - a total amount of 2.5 billion rupiah ($A338,000) - at the local government level to fund its operations.

Rev Yoman said the regional government had announced it had spent approximately 19 billion rupiah ($A2.56 million) to pay for medicine and food but there was no evidence of that at the village level.

"We are suffering but the government is not giving us the food or medicines.'

Rev Yoman said international donors to Indonesia such as Australia should pressure Jakarta to open a dialogue with the independence movement, the OPM.

As well, Australia should be pushing its new ally to investigate the corruption claims and secure access for human rights officials to visit areas where recent military operations have occurred.

He said the federal government should regard West Papua as a neighbour since it was close physically, shared a Christian culture and even had similar fauna such as kangaroos.

"They are dancing while Christian people are suffering in West Papua. We are neighbours. Why are they blind men?"

A continuing military offensive in the Puncak Jaya area of Indonesia's easternmost province had destroyed villages forcing up to 6,000 people to flee, Rev Yoman said.

The military's strategy was to kill people by forcing them to face hunger and disease in the forest rather than shooting them outright, he said.

"They create a stigma by saying the OPM are staying in this village.

"The military create the problem themselves.

"They come and the people run to the forest and the military burn the houses and damage the gardens and kill the pigs. It's the new system."

Rev Yoman also warned that Islamic militia groups, backed by the military, were spreading through the province.

Earlier this month the Indonesian army announced a new 15,000-strong division of its crack Kostrad troops would be formed and sent to the restive province.

The poorly-armed OPM has fought Indonesian rule since Jakarta annexed Papua in 1962 and backed the takeover with a referendum in 1969 widely seen as rigged.

Sydney Morning Herald

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