Australian PM’s offer for Papua raises suspicion

JAKARTA - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s commitment to help develop Indonesia’s easternmost region could instead lead to more abuses of Papuans, an activist warns.

Papua was among the three main issues discussed during the third Indonesia-Australia Annual Leaders Meeting between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Rudd at the Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java on Friday. The two other issues were people smuggling and economic cooperation in the beef and cattle sector.

“Given the trends of the series of cases in the past, we can see that almost all human rights cases in Papua were rooted in economic motivation. Corporations operating in Papua, particularly foreign ones, for instance, use soldiers for security, a measure that increases the chances of human rights abuses against locals,” the coordinator of rights group National Papua Solidarity (NAPAS), Zely Ariane, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

With Rudd standing beside him at a joint press conference after Friday’s meeting, Yudhoyono expressed concern over rampant “propaganda” spread by Papuan separatist activists in many countries who advocate independence by “exaggerating alleged human rights violations by Indonesian military and police”.

“I told the Australian prime minister that any Indonesian soldiers or police officers found to commit violations will definitely be punished or brought before a military tribunal,” Yudhoyono said. “But to be honest, in the recent past, those falling victims were Indonesian Military [TNI] personnel and police officers.”

In his speech at the conference, Rudd not only reiterated Australia’s recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty over Papua but also offered help to speed up development in Papua and West Papua provinces.

“I, as the prime minister of Australia, will do everything I can to support [Yudhoyono] in this direction.”

Issues concerning Papua were not expected to be broached by those attending the media conference. “According to information I received, it was Prime Minister Rudd who raised the issue,” presidential spokesman for foreign affairs Teuku Faizasyah told the Post.

Zely alleged that Rudd’s statement was a further indicator of the wish of Australia’s businesses to invest in Papua, particularly in the mining sector. “The door for foreign investors has been opened by the government via its MP3EI [Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development],” she said.

Foreign investment in Papua, she said, would not address the core problems in Papua. Massive projects would not only be prone to corruption but would also widen economic gaps and marginalize Papuans more, she added.

Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa said that starting this year, the government would prioritize MP3EI projects in the eastern provinces, including Papua and West Papua.

“Projects in natural resources and energy will be boosted,” Hatta said. “But exploration projects must also contribute to the acceleration of local economies by establishing centers of growth around the projects,” he added, brushing-off Zely’s opinion.

Of the total MP3EI investment of Rp 545.76 trillion (US$55.12 billion) set for this year, almost a half or Rp 204.56 trillion will go to Papua, West Papua, Maluku and North Maluku provinces.

Issues surrounding Papua have always been politically sensitive for Indonesia, while to Australia, it is the long-unstoppable flow of asylum seekers that is at the heart of its domestic political interests. [JakartaPost]
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