Indonesia Orders ICRC (Red Cross) Out of Papua Over Jail Visits

Indonesia Orders ICRC (Red Cross) Out of Papua Over Jail Visits

Received from Joyo Indonesia News
By Sunanda Creagh
Editing by Sara Webb and Alex Richardson

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia has ordered the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to leave the politically sensitive Papua region after its officials visited separatists in jail, the foreign ministry said.

Papua, the underdeveloped but resource-rich western half of New Guinea island where independence activists have waged a separatist campaign for decades, is geographically isolated and foreign journalists need special permission to visit.

There is a strong military and police presence in Papua, especially around the huge Grasberg copper and gold mine. Police recently shot demonstrators calling for a boycott of Indonesia's April 9 parliamentary election.

Foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said that the government was offended both by the ICRC's failure to obtain proper permission to operate in Papua and by the prison visits.

"Any organisation must be aware that, yes, this is a new Indonesia but we are a sovereign country," Faizasyah told Reuters, suggesting that other aid organisations might also face a clampdown.

"They should not abuse our democratic reform and act as though they can do whatever suits their interests."

The ICRC said it runs sanitation projects in Papua and also visits detainees, including jailed members of the secessionist Free Papua Movement (OPM), to ensure they are treated properly. "People accused of crimes which might be called subversion, or rebellion could be at risk of being discriminated against," said Vincent Nicod, the head of the ICRC's Indonesia delegation.

"When we visit detainees, it is not to look into the reason for the detention. It's part of our activity relating to international humanitarian law to ensure that political prisoners are provided worldwide with decent conditions."

The dispute follows last year's release of stricter new rules on the funding of foreign non-governmental organisations in Indonesia.

The foreign ministry's Faizasyah said that the government first asked the ICRC to renegotiate the deal under which it operates in Indonesia in 2000 but the ICRC said talks stalled after the tsunami in December 2004 when 170,000 Indonesians died.

In March 2009, the government told the ICRC to close its Papua office and return to Jakarta to renegotiate the agreement.

"Do they question our ability to manage our prisons? We have a free media now, functioning NGOs and if there is any mishap in the handling of an institution, it will, of course, be reported to the government," said Faizasyah.

The ICRC's Nicod said that the Indonesian government had approached the ICRC in early 2000 to rewrite the deal but said the existing agreement officially had no expiry date.