Thursday, July 27, 2006

ASEAN dialogue to prevent eastern separatism

Aiming to reduce outside influence over its eastern territories, especially Papua province, and to limit the danger of separatism, Indonesia yesterday hosted a Southwest Pacific dialog on the sidelines of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and ASEAN Regional Forum in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting was chaired by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, and was attended by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, Papua New Guinea's Petroleum and Energy Minister Sir Moi Avei, the Philippines Foreign Minister Alberto G. Romulo and Timor Leste Foreign Minister Jose Luis Guterres.

"We need to hold a dialog with our neighbors in the eastern part, like what we have in the western part in the form of ASEAN, because these neighbors are very influential on our eastern territory, such as Papua," said the Indonesian Foreign Ministry's director general for Asia, Pacific and Africa, Primo Alui Joelianto, who attended the talks.

He highlighted the importance of the dialog, pointing out that the majority of Indonesians living in eastern areas of the country were ethnic Melanesians, who constitute the majority in many Pacific islands. "Failing to pay adequate attention to our eastern neighbors and the situation in our eastern territories can cause our eastern areas to fall under the influence" of outside forces, Primo said.

"Indonesia continues to be sensitive to the possibility of losing Papua, where a low-level separatist movement has been active for decades. Also, the independence of Timor Leste, a former Indonesian province, is still fresh in the minds of Indonesian authorities. In addition to racial differences, many Papuans believe they are not benefiting from the exploitation of the province's abundant natural resources," commented Abdul Khalik in The Jakarta Post. "Five years since the passage of the law on special autonomy for Papua, a status which also is shared by West Irian Jaya province, people in the provinces have yet to truly benefit from their rich natural resources. According to the latest data from the State Ministry for the Development of Disadvantaged Regions, 19 of 20 regencies across Papua were classified in 2005 as underdeveloped."

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