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Australian, Indonesia Resolve Dispute Over Papua Province


The Australian prime minister has told the Indonesian president his country does not support the Papuan separatist movement. The two leaders were meeting for the first time since relations became strained over Canberra's decision to grant visas to asylum seekers from the troubled Indonesian province.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Indonesia's Batam Island, said his country had no interest in supporting separatist movements, including that in Papua Province.

Forty two Papuan asylum seekers who landed in Australia in March were granted temporary-protection visas, enraging Inodonesia, which recalled its ambassador to Canberra.

The Papuans, some of them members of the provincial independence movement, claimed Indonesian security forces were guilty of widespread human-rights violations in the province, charges Jakarta denies.

Indonesia also expressed concern that Australia's actions did not match its official policy of rejecting Papuan independence.

Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal says Mr. Howard clarified Australia's position, saying he did not want the country to become a staging post for separatist movements.

"That was significant because ... that was new language," said Djalal. "But secondly they also reaffirmed that they did not want development assistance by Australia to be used or misused to fund political activities in Papua or to fund separatist movements in Papua."

Following the visa decision in March, Mr. Howard proposed changes to the Australian immigration rules to make it more difficult for asylum seekers to gain protection.

But last week, Australian legislators forced a postponement of the changes, which the prime minister had hoped to pass before his talks with Mr. Yudhoyono.

Spokesman Djalal says the Indonesian government appreciates that efforts to address immigration policy in Australia will take time.

"We understand that domestically this requires some effort to legislate, and we also understand this is an internal matter for the Australian government and what the president said is that he hopes there will be an outcome that would be good for the relationship between Indonesia and Australia," he said.

Mr. Howard also raised Australian concerns over Indonesia's recent release of Abu Bakar Bashir. The militant cleric served 26 months for his part in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people, 88 of them Australians.

While never convicted specifically, Bashir is suspected of being the spiritual leader Jemaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for the bombings.

Mr. Yudhoyono has responded by saying the case against Bashir is closed and his country has exhausted all legal means to deal with the radical Muslim cleric.

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