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Mark Forbes in Jakarta
August 11, 2008
SOME of the 43 Papuans who sparked a diplomatic crisis by seeking asylum in Australia want to return to Indonesia, according to the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda, who has offered to assist them.
In an exclusive interview before talks today with the Australian Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, Mr Wirayuda revealed that some of the Papuans had indicated a desire to return, a development that would be “good for both Australia and Indonesia”. The move would be a public relations coup for Jakarta.
He said Australian pleas could help spare the lives of those members of the Bali nine on death row and cautioned the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, not to “rush” his push for an Asia Pacific community.
Mr Wirayuda also rebuffed calls to extradite a former Indonesian military officer and cabinet minister for ordering the murder of five journalists in the East Timorese town of Balibo in 1975.
A recommendation by the NSW coroner to charge a former information minister, Yunus Yosfiah, was a “nuisance” and would go nowhere because the killings were a “non-issue”, he said.
Mr Wirayuda said the granting of asylum to the 43 independence supporters, who fled to Australia by canoe in 2006, “touched the very nerve of Indonesian politics”. Jakarta recalled its ambassador and froze relations in protest.
The row thawed when Australia promised not to support anti-Indonesian independence activities in a new security treaty.
Asylum was granted to the Papuans on the grounds they had legitimate fears for their safety if they returned.
Since the incident the situation in Papua had improved, Mr Wirayuda said. “We hope there will be no more groups seeking asylum in Australia and other countries. In fact with positive developments in the province of West Papua we may witness on the opposite side; that those who are already enjoying asylum status return to Papua.”
Indonesia was “definitely” prepared to assist repatriations, which could take place this year, Mr Wirayuda said. “We would welcome those who reconsider and wish to return.”
He would not say how many Papuans wanted to return and how they had communicated with Indonesian officials.
Jakarta is understood to be hoping that a smooth return by some of the refugees would persuade others to follow. Papuans who have sought refuge in Papua New Guinea have been returning recently, although activists claim intimidation of Papuan independence supporters continues.
Mr Wirayuda said the passage of the new Lombok Treaty would smooth difficulties with Australia, including public resistance to the execution of three Australian members of the Bali nine heroin ring. “We are fully aware of the sensitivity. Even at the highest level of meetings amongst our ministers this has been quietly discussed,” he said.
Asked if Australian views could influence consideration of clemency for the trio, he replied: “Certainly, we take into account the domestic and bilateral implications of this problem.”
Although he said Indonesia wanted to hear more details of Mr Rudd’s call for an Asia Pacific Community to be created by 2020, he cautioned “just take your time, because regional integration is an evolving process”.
The region’s nations were diverse. “It took 41 years for the Association of South-East Asian Nations to move to transform from a rather loose organisation into a community which we hope to attain in 2015,” he said.