Indonesia Makes Overtures To Papua Separatists

Indonesia Makes Overtures To Papua Separatists

Reporting by Telly Nathalia
Writing by Ed Davies
Editing by Bill Tarrant

A separatist leader from Indonesia's Papua has returned from exile at the invitation of Jakarta for talks aimed at securing peace in the remote province in the east of the country, a minister said on Friday. Nicolas Jouwe, 85, a founder of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), met Indonesian officials in the Netherlands before agreeing to return.

"These are the first talks. We hope this is the beginning of the end of the problem," Indonesia's chief welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie told reporters after a meeting with Jouwe. Bakrie said that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had ordered efforts to resolve the problems in Papua after his administration's success in brokering a peace deal in Aceh.

The resource-rich province of Aceh suffered a three-decade civil war before a peace deal was reached in 2005.

Asked about whether he was committed to ending the independence struggle, Jouwe said: "We are close nations. We have already been created like this. We cannot live without considering each other."

An Indonesian official said talks in the Netherlands had covered pledges to fight corruption, guarantees for religious rights in the province with a large Christian population and a request for Indonesia to consider releasing OPM prisoners.

Jouwe is due to meet President Yudhoyono and visit Papua at the weekend.

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 as flawed.

Independence activists in Papua have waged a campaign for nearly 40 years to break away from Indonesia, while a low-level armed rebellion has also simmered, often related to disputes over the sharing of rich natural resources.

Yudhoyono, who is seeking a second term in office this year, has promised to end conflict in Papua and speed up development but critics say rights abuses continue and little has been achieved under the 2001 special autonomy agreement for Papua. (Reporting by Telly Nathalia; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Bill Tarrant)