Papua rebel group founder calls for peace with Indonesia

Papua rebel group founder calls for peace with Indonesia

JAKARTA, (AFP) -- The co-founder of a Papuan rebel group fighting to split from Indonesia called for a peaceful settlement to the conflict Friday after returning from more than 40 years in exile abroad.

Nicholas Jouwe, the 85-year-old co-founder of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), made the call for peace in a meeting with Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie after arriving from the Netherlands Wednesday.

"The world is getting smaller. Papua and Indonesia should forge closer ties with each other. It is better that we find a solution to work together rather than be at war," he said.

Jouwe, who is not a commander in the OPM, refused to say if he would drop support for OPM's goal of independence for Papua.

Indonesia took control of the remote eastern region of ethnically distinct Melanesians in the 1960s.

"We (Papua and Indonesia) are two nations so close to each other. Whether we fall or stand, whether for good or bad, we will have to face the challenges together," said Jouwe, the creater of Papua's banned "Morning Star" independence flag.

Bakrie said he hoped the visit would pave the way for dialogue between the government and Papuans resentful of Jakarta's rule in the resource-rich region.

"As the co-founder of OPM, we hope Jouwe can help to foster reconciliation with Papuans. We hope there will be progress and it will be carried out in a peaceful manner," Bakrie said.

The minister said he was hopeful an accord could be reached with OPM rebels similar to a 2005 foreign-brokered deal with separatists in Aceh province that ended more than three decades of conflict there.

A spokesman for Bakrie had said earlier in the week Jouwe was set to renounce his calls for independence.

Papua sits on the western end of New Guinea island, where armed rebels have waged a low-level insurgency since its incorporation into Indonesia.