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Indonesian Defense Minister Admits Some Human Rights Abuses in Papua

The Indonesian defense minister has acknowledged that some military and police personnel have committed rights abuses in the eastern province of Papua. He says, however, any abuses are not part of a systematic policy.

Indonesian Defense Minister Juwarno Sudarsono told journalists Monday what human rights groups have been saying for years - that some members of the police and military are committing human rights abuses in Papua.

"I grant that there's been incidence of some brutality and torture and rape involving some of our troops, but there's a tendency to blanket all this into a notion that all of those are efforts of systematic and institutional," he said.

Juwarno made the remarks in response to questions about 43 Papuans, who fled to Australia last month seeking asylum.

The group accuses the Indonesian government of genocide against the people of Papua. While Australia has yet to decide their fate, the Indonesian government has asked that the asylum-seekers be sent home.

Separatists in Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya province, have been fighting for an independent state in a low-level insurgency since the former Dutch colonial power ceded control to Indonesia in 1963.

Rights groups have long accused the Indonesian military and police of committing abuses against civilians as they fought insurgents.

Juwarno also defended a de facto ban on foreign journalists wanting to visit Papua. Visits are rarely allowed. The defense chief says his government thinks visits by foreign journalists disrupt national unity, and stir up separatists.

"Your role as a magnetic attraction to Papuans of all stripes of political and ethnic sense of identity will create this sense of danger among people from outside Papua that the foreigners are trying to instill a sense of division, by creating human rights standards, which you feel are important for you, but also for Papuans," he said.

Juwarno warned foreign journalists not to take chances of trying to enter the province without permission.

"My concern is that some overzealous police or military will mishandle you, manhandle you. That's a big problem for us," he said.

The defense minister says the government will issue guidelines to foreign companies in Indonesia, seeking military protection for their operations.

The U.S. mining company, Freeport-McMoRan, has been accused of illegally paying millions of dollars to security forces to guard a mine in Papua.

Juwarno says the new guidelines will entail all payments being made voluntarily, and through a civil agency, such as the Ministry of Minerals and Mines.