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Papuan Independence Activists Want Obama to Take Up Their Cause


A delegation of independence activists from Indonesia's Papua province are calling upon President Barack Obama to advocate on their behalf when he meets with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in November. The delegation recently returned from Washington, where they testified before Congress and meet with State and Defense department officials.

The Papua independence activists returned to Indonesia energized by their recent visit to Washington, D.C. They testified last month in Congress about autonomy for Papua province and cases of what they called human rights abuses there.

Only three U.S. congressmen attended the hearing. But Forkorus Yaboisembut, head of Papuan tribe counsel, said Tuesday in Jakarta that the congressional representative from American Samoa has garnered significant support for Papua in Congress and is urging President Obama to get involved.

He says more than 50 members of Congress are concerned about Indonesia's failure to implement a special autonomy law and they will urge President Obama to make West Papua one of his highest priorities when he visits Indonesia.

Nine years ago the Indonesian government granted Papua special autonomy and greater say in local political and economic decisions. But many in the province say it has failed to bring prosperity or peace to a region rich in natural resources, such as gold, silver and oil.

An independence movement and low-level insurgency have continued in Papua since the former Dutch colony was integrated into Indonesia nearly 50 years ago.

An estimated 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Human rights groups have reported cases of wrongful imprisonment and abuse of independence activists. However, foreign journalists, human rights workers and academics rarely are allowed access to the province, making it difficult to verify claims of abuse.

President Obama visits Indonesia in November. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta says the specific agenda for the visit has been announced, but that the U.S. President and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will discuss key bilateral issues.

A State Department official testified at the hearing on Papua that the United States does not endorse independence for the province. The official said Washington encourages the Jakarta government to work with Papauans to address their grievances, resolve conflicts and support development in the province.

The Indonesian government has denied allegations of abuse and maintains that political disagreements between the province of Papua and Jakarta can be solved through negotiation rather than separation.

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