Fw: Danger in mixed signals on Irian Jaya

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Tue Oct 31 22:46:33 MST 2000

The _two_ articles below are from The Australian

Danger in mixed signals on Irian Jaya
By Paul Kelly
November 1

INDONESIA'S most eastern province is called Irian Jaya, by the way. But
rarely, it seems, in Australia, where Irian Jaya is already West Papua, a
term used, incredibly, by our ministers – including John Howard and almost
universally in the media.

It symbolises how far the cultural dynamics have shifted that politicians,
when defending Indonesia's sovereignty over this province, call it West
Papua, thereby implicitly conceding the independence cause.

When Australia's defence green paper was released four months ago there was
anger in Jakarta over a map with the label West Papua on the territory
Australia once called Irian Jaya. Of course, it was a mistake, but it was
revealing. In Defence Department documents you expect the right name for
provinces that belong to neighbours whose capability and intentions will
shape much of your defence policy.

Irian Jaya is going to become a hot spot. It is a mistake for our
politicians to use the words West Papua, but the situation has gone beyond
this. The Indonesian army is organising pro-Jakarta militias on the ground
in Irian Jaya. It is putting in place a military and political strategy
that suggests two things: the prospect of more violence and Jakarta's
determination to hold Irian Jaya. This province is a Sukarno nationalistic
legacy. Its history stretches back before the Suharto era to its
acquisition in the 1960s in a highly dubious act of "free choice''.

Howard and Alexander Downer have every reason to be sensitive about Irian
Jaya. The Australian-Indonesian relationship is broken. Howard and
Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid can't manage to visit each other's
countries. The Howard Government, trying to restore a functioning
relationship with Jakarta, has been frustrated at each turn by a mixture of
anti-Australian sentiment and administrative bungling.

There is a new claim in Jakarta – that Australia wants to turn Irian Jaya
into a free West Papua. It captures the essential problem: this issue has
its own dynamic and is beyond the control of our political leaders. The
signs are unmistakable. In Canberra yesterday, Greens Senator Bob Brown
hosted a media conference for John Koknak, a Free Papua Movement leader.
They want Australia to put pressure on Jakarta for a vote of
self-determination for Irian Jaya, the next stage in the dismantling of
Indonesia. It is a repeat of the successful East Timor strategy. Koknak
said that if Indonesia refuses to negotiate, "the choice is to fight''.

Brown said Australia's involvement was essential, "if further bloodshed is
to be avoided''. Once the bloodshed does increase, so will the campaign.
The popular appeal in Brown's pitch can't be underestimated. He predicts
that the "fair-mindedness'' of the Australian people will support the West
Papuan cause just as it did with East Timor. Brown called upon the
Coalition and Labor to change the present bipartisan policy of acceptance
of Indonesian sovereignty and embrace self-determination.

Much of the trade union movement, as distinct from the Labor caucus, has
already moved to this position. In Melbourne last week ACTU vice-president
Greg Sword announced he was signing a memorandum of understanding with the
West Papuan movement. Significantly, Sword claimed the reason was "so that
further bloodshed is avoided''. Sword is also ALP federal president but
felt no need to stick by ALP policy.

At this point the political leaders pulled the plug. Shadow foreign
minister Laurie Brereton fired off an immediate statement on West Papua and
spoke to Sword. Brereton's points were: that ALP policy accepts Indonesian
sovereignty; that West Papua is not a repeat of East Timor; that such
actions won't lessen tensions in West Papua and will only damage
Australia's relations with Indonesia; and that the ALP will pursue human
rights abuses in West Papua.

Brereton, who forced a change of ALP policy on East Timor, comes to the
Irian Jaya issue with a credibility dividend since he has hardly been
crawling to Jakarta recently. Two days later Downer warned of a bloodbath
in West Papua if the outsiders fermented the independence cause. Howard
said: "We have always taken the view that West Papua is an integral part of
Indonesia and we won't be advocating anything designed to undermine the
authority of Indonesia.''

The problem facing Australian governments is that they know privately that
Indonesia might not be able to hold Irian Jaya because it provokes too
strong a backlash due to its military brutality. Australian governments
must be alive to the charge of the independence campaigners – that
Australia can't make the mistake of recognising Indonesian sovereignty
beyond a point when it is no longer tenable. Any such point, of course, is
a long way off, if it is ever to be reached.

The battle lines over the West Papuan cause are being drawn in this
country: the churches, non-government organisations and unions are ready.
The parallels with East Timor are a source of hope for pro-independence

The moral case for West Papuan independence may be strong. But the
strategic case for caution is overwhelming. To support the dismantling of
another country or a process to achieve this dismantling would be an
unfriendly act at best and, more accurately, it would be seen as the action
of an enemy.

Anybody who thinks this is not how Indonesia would think and react is a
super-optimist. Nationalism, along with democracy, is on the rise in that
country. The consequences of turning Jakarta into an enemy will be
unpredictable, but they are likely to be nasty for Australians.

In this situation the issue won't be about restoring a workable
relationship between Canberra and Jakarta; it will be about trying to
prevent a slide into a hostile relationship. The Coalition and Labor face
an exacting foreign policy management issue in which they need to engage
the public.

Paul Kelly is the International Editor on The Australian


Fallout over Pacific forum future
By Robert Garran Defence writer, and agencies

A 16-nation Pacific summit ended yesterday amid grave concern about the
collapse of regional security and bickering over where the next annual
meeting would be held.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark threatened to boycott next year's
Pacific Islands Forum, planned for Suva, unless democracy were restored in

"It can't be resolved here because there is no agreement," Mrs Clark told

John Howard said he would find it difficult to attend a meeting in Fiji.
"There are difficulties for Australia if it's in Fiji, of course. But I
hope we will be able to, in the Pacific way, talk about this and resolve

Pacific leaders meeting in Kiribati adopted the Biketawa declaration at the
weekend, which established a plan for dealing with regional political

A separate communique, issued yesterday by the forum, expressed grave
concern over the Pacific's security environment. "The forum expressed grave
concern that, since its last meeting in Palau in 1999, the region's
security environment had become more unstable," the communique said.

Mr Howard used the forum to announce a $350 million extension of
Australia's scheme for supplying patrol boats to Pacific countries to help
them protect their fisheries.

He said the first of 22 patrol boats would have reached the end of its
planned 15-year life span in 2002, but now all the boats would be upgraded,
doubling their lives to 30 years.

The program, launched by the former Labor government, has bipartisan
support but has at times come under fire.

Despite the controversy over Fiji, and the inclusion on the forum's agenda
of West Papua's independence struggle from Indonesia, Mr Howard said the
forum had been "particularly successful".

"The forum has taken a quantum move forward in terms of relevance (and) it
will be taken a lot more seriously by the world," he said. "We have
displayed a capacity to address frankly some difficult issues and reach
sensible compromises."

Wary of provoking a backlash from Indonesia for unwanted domestic
interference, Australia had pressed forum members to keep silent on the
West Papua issue.

But the communique, while recognising Indonesian sovereignty over the
province, delivered a diplomatic victory to the West Papuans, acknowledging
their cause and calling for a peaceful end to violence.

"I . . . asked the forum to understand that this was a sensitive, difficult
issue for Indonesia, that the fear of fragmentation was very significant in
Indonesian minds," Mr Howard said.

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