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More trouble for Howard and Downer as more Papuans arrive

By Darryl Mason
Created 05/04/2006 - 13:18

Darryl Mason runs the blog, Your New Reality [1], and has recently begun submitting his work to Webdiary. His last piece was Whinging in Innisfail [1].

by Darryl Mason

The Sydney Morning Herald [2] is reporting that the Papuan family of an infamous political activist, including his two month old baby, have reached Australia territory in the past three days.

The Immigration Department are already aware that the family have landed on an uninhabited island off the Australian coast. They were dropped there, apparently, by local Papuan fishermen in a speedboat.

This event is bound to cause chaos in the already fractured diplomatic relationship between Australia and Indonesia, who have all but demanded that the 43 Papuans who arrived in Australia in January in a dug-out canoe be returned to Indonesia.

But these Papuans have already been granted visas and are now living in Melbourne, where some of them are talking to the media very loudly and very passionately indeed about murders, beatings and brutal suppression of the 'Free Papua' independence movement by the Indonesian police and military.

The Indonesian government were so angered by the Immigration Department's decision to grant visas to these political refugees that they withdrew their Australian ambassador.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has tried to downplay the fury of the Indonesians, but few are buying his story that it's no big deal and merely a blip in an otherwise healthy and productive friendship.

The Herald claims that the matter is so serious the fragile situation has already been discussed by the Australian national security committee, presumably to assess what actions Indonesia may take in retaliation... or more specifically, what action Indonesian terorists may take against Australian interests in the archipelago.

A Cath0lic priest in West Papua claims the six member family now camped out on the Australian territory island is that of a union activist. His wife, their two month old baby and their three other children are with him.

Indonesian official reaction is expected to be fast and loud.

The West Papuans, already granted visas, arrived in Melbourne yesterday and have been recieved with genuine warmth by Australians, who clearly remember the terror and violence and widspread massacres inflicted upon the East Timorese people by the Indonesian military and military-backed militias in 1999 and 2000.

It may be a different government in Indonesia now, but many of the same generals and senior officers remain in powerful positions within the Indonesian military.

There were no war crime trials for the savage slaughter of thousands of East Timorese, and there are serious fears now for what will happen in West Papua as the calls for independence from Indonesia grow louder.

And those calls are not only growing louder in Papua, but in Australia and now, gradually, around the world.

One argument made in favour of the West Papuans is a simple one, although it may not be a 100% correct: How can Australia send its soldiers to the other side of the world to free Iraqis from a brutal regime when West Papuans, so close to Australia, suffer still in their cry for freedom?

There is a long and complicated history behind Papua, and a dark and foul recent past in the way Indonesia has dealt with those who won't sit down and shut up and wish to break away.

The thought of sending any of these West Papuans back to Indonesia, in particular sending back the children, when Australians know all too clearly what happened to hundreds of children in East Timor, is a dark and terrible comprehension.

They will be safe, Indonesia says, they will not be treated harshly.

But few Australians believe them. The bloodshed in East Timor was too recent, and the fear in the eyes of the West Papuans who now call themselves 'temporary' Australians is all too real.

Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Australians want the government to "stand up" to Indonesia.


President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has demanded Canberra restate its support for the intergrity of Indonesia as the "festering... row" (as the Jakarta Post called it) over the fate of 43 political asylum seekers threatens to wreak further havoc in the halls of power.

President Yudhoyono now wants "serious" diplomatic meetings between the two countries.

"We need to look at agreements, such as the cooperation in illegal migration that has taken place frequently in the past years," President Yudhoyono told the Jakarta Post yesterday. "(We need to examine) the actual ethics and ramifications of the support that Australia asserts about Indonesia's sovereignty, including Papua."

President Yudhoyono wants Australia to match its good word on supporting Indonesia with action, presumably that would include sending back the West Papuans and not accepting anymore as these actions "diminish Indonesia's sovereignty".

In other words, Don't F..k With Us.

Yudhoyono said he believes the issue of the West Papuans should have been looked at "from the two perspectives like I had hoped for." Australia could have made "a much better choice".

The choice Australia made has now affected bilateral relations, he claimed.

Diminished sovereignty, a festering row, bilateral relations affected... this is making the cartoon 'crisis' look , well, cartoonish by comparison.

President Yudjoyono also denied the West Papuans had no reason to fear persecution and that no members of the group had been sought by the Indonesian military or police.

Yes, that's right, they must be making it all up.

Just like those East Timorese back in the late '90s.

Go here to read the full Jakarat Post story. [3]


First there was the Indonesian newspaper cartoon showing the Australian Prime Minister mounting his Foreign Minister as he cried, "I want Papua!"

Cartoon wars
cartoon by Gus Leonisky

Then there was the Australian newspaper cartoon showing the Indonesian President mounting a native Papuan.

The Australian Prime Minister laughed off the 'Cartoon Wars' controversy.

The Australian Foreign Minister called them both "offensive" and "tasteless".

But the Indonesian President has said little about either cartoon...until now:

"Such cartoons are agitative, destructive and only act to heighten emotions among the public," said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as quoted in the Jakarta Post today [4].

"A war of caricature, a war between media, a war of statements won't reach any solution, but only problems. Many big conflicts, including the world wars, started from a mere gimmick."

Mere gimmick?

Ahhh, okay... let's not go there.

The Indonesian cartoonist responsible for the image of Prime Minister Howard taking Foreign Minister Alexander Downer from behind (or "dominating him" as the Australian media were so fond of calling it) has also spoken out about the true meaning of the controversial piece of art.

He told the Jakarta Post the image was not meant to show Downer and Howard during coitus, and was "motivated by a strong sense of nationalism."

From the Post: "He said he could not accept the humiliating treatment his country was given by Australia and her government. Although the many readers who saw his cartoon, which was published last week, could be forgiven for thinking the opposite, (the cartoonist) denied the drawing he made... was of the animals fornicating but of them 'behaving playfully'."

Go here [5] and here [6] to get the background and to see the Indonesian and the Australian cartoons in question.


ABC News is reporting [7] this morning that " a top Indonesian hotel says it will refuse to accept Australian guests after a protest by 20 Indonesian students over Australia granting visas to Papuan asylum seekers.

"The university students were blocked from entering Sahid Hotel in the capital of South Sulawesi province, but they refused to leave hotel grounds until staff promised to turn away Australians.

"The students... (said) they plan to make similar demands to other major hotels in the city.

"Public anger against Australia has risen since the Government granted the visas to 42 Papuan asylum seekers last month."

Although the students got their ban on Australian guests being allowed into Sahid Hotel, it won't make much difference. The hotel has only had one Australian guest so far this year.

But still, it's the principle of the thing... or something.


So angry are Indonesian legislators about the visas granted to West Papuan seekers of political asylum that next week a ten member strong team will arrive in Australia to voice their opposition. The trip is expected to take three days.

Trouble is, there might not be anyone left in Canberra to meet them. The Australian Parliament has taken a break from arguing about wheat and bribes and workplace reform and won't be back until May 9.

The Indonesian legislators don't care. They're still coming.

But they deny they are using the trip as an excuse to go on a shopping and sightseeing junket.

Even that might not be so simple.

The Australian government, or its Immigration Department, may refuse to give them entry visas.

Now that would be a diplomatic crisis. All that shopping, and all those sights, not seen... nor shopped.

One meeting has been locked in, however, with Greens senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle... who are pro-Papuan independence.

The team is seeking meetings with Prime Minister Howard and Foreign Minister Downer.

Howard and Downer might be too busy for all that. They might even be fronting an inquiry, by then, into how an Australian company was allowed to pay bribes to the Saddam Hussein regime, even after the war to get rid of him had begun.

Then again, a meeting with ten very annoyed Indonesians might be exactly the kind of break Howard and Downer are looking for.

They might even want to take their guests out for a little sightseeing, and some shopping, of course.

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