Papua separatist in Indonesia talks

Papua separatist in Indonesiatalks


An exiled West Papuan leader who has been fighting for the island's independence from Indonesia, has returned from exile to hold reconciliation talks in Jakarta.

Nicholas Jouwe, the co-founder of the Free Papua Movement, was due to meet Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, on Saturday before visiting Papua.

Jouwe, 85, returned to the country on Friday after being approached by Indonesian officials in the Netherlands, where he has lived in exile for the past 40 years.

"I've come to speak to the Indonesians face to face to see what we can do," Jouwe said, denying that his organisation was ready to surrender to the government.

"We need each other. We are neighbours - eternal neighbours - [and] they have to keep that in mind."

Indonesian rule

Indonesiatook over West Papua- on the western half of New Guineaisland - from Dutch colonial rule in 1963.

About 100,000 Papuans have since died in a decades-long campaign for independence.

Yudhoyono, who is looking to win a second term in office later in the year, has pledged to end the conflict in West Papua.

In 2005, his administration brokered a peace deal in the provinceof Aceh, ending an almost 30-year separatist conflict there.

After agreeing to lay down arms, fighters in Aceh were given greater control over local resources and the right to take part in politics.

Similar agreement

Aburizal Bakrie, Indonesia's chief welfare minister, said he was encouraged by the developments in Papua and hoped to eventually secure a similar agreement.

"These are the first talks. We hope this is the beginning of the end of the problem," Bakrie said.

The preceding talks in the Netherlandscentred on fighting corruption, religious rights in the province, and the possibility of releasing imprisoned separatist fighters, Reuters new agency reported, citing an Indonesian official.

Critics, however, have reacted sceptically to the development, saying little was changed under a 2001 special autonomy agreement for Papua, and human rights abuses continue.