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Papuan Students Protest Rights Abuses in Indonesia

Around 300 students from Indonesia's Papua Province have held a peaceful demonstration in the nation's capital, demanding an investigation into human rights abuses and international access to their troubled province. The demonstration takes place as the issue of Papuan asylum seekers in Australia is straining ties with Indonesia.

Shouting "Long live Indonesia; Long live Papua" students tried to march to the presidential palace in Jakarta, but were stopped by police.

Spokesman for the West Papua People's United Struggle, Arkilaus Baho, says the security forces are committing human rights abuses against the civilian population.

He says the students are demanding the closure of the U.S-owned Freeport mine in Papua, the withdrawal of the military and police from the province, and a full investigation into human rights abuses there.

Eki, an international spokesman for the West Papuan Student Movement says that, contrary to media reports, the students do not intend to use violence to gain their objectives.

"West Papuans are not savages or animals that we have been portrayed in the Indonesian media lately," he said. "We want to portray to the world that our movement, the West Papua Student Movement is a non-violent movement and that we are not only organized, but understand that violence is not going to solve our issues."

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno, on a visit to Papua, denied his troops were committing human rights abuses and warned outsiders against meddling in the country's internal affairs.

Mr. Yudhoyono's warning came as Australian officials were investigating reports that a Papuan activist and his family had landed in northern Australia.

Last month the Australian government granted temporary visas to 42 Papuans who fled their homeland accusing the Indonesian security forces of committing genocide in the province.

Jakarta recalled its ambassador to Canberra after the visas were granted.

But Australian Prime Minister John Howard says he does not think ties have been seriously damaged.

"Clearly this has caused a strain in the relationship, but I don't regard it as in any way fatal," he said.

Papua, one of Indonesia's poorest and most remote provinces, has seen an upswing in unrest recently.

Last month, four members of the security forces were killed after armed police clashed with protesters demanding the closure of the Freeport mine, the world's largest gold and copper mine. Papuans claim they see little of the wealth the mine generates.

The U.S.-based organization Human Rights Watch says the escalating violence in Papua should be independently investigated, but that this is impossible at present because Indonesia has denied journalists and other independent monitors access to the region.