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Free Papua founder ends exile, calls for peace with Jakarta

Article published on the 2009-03-20 Latest update 2009-03-20 15:53 TU

OPM co-founder Nicholas Jouwe in Jakarta(Photo: Reuters)

OPM co-founder Nicholas Jouwe in Jakarta
(Photo: Reuters)

Nicholas Jouwe, the cofounder of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), has called for a peaceful settlement to the last major armed separatist rebellion in Indonesia's province of West Papua. The 85-year-old met Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie in Jakarta on Friday, ending 40 years of life in exile.

"The world is getting smaller," Jouwe said. "Papua and Indonesia should forge closer ties with each other. It is better that we find a solution to work together rather than be at war."

Indonesian officials had announced on Thursday that Jouwe would renounce the call for independence, but he refused to confirm whether he would do so and referred to the eastern territory as a nation.

"We [Papua and Indonesia] are two nations so close to each other," he said. "Whether we fall or stand, whether for good or bad, we will have to face the challenges together."

In 1961, Jouwe, who is is not an OPM commander, created the "Morning Star" flag, which symbolises Papuan independence, whose display is banned by Indonesia.

Bakrie said that he hoped that Jouwe, who will go to Papua, will promote dialogue between separatist Papuans and Jakarta.

"Nicolas Jouwe is the only OPM founding father who is still alive,” Indonesia’s ambassador to the Netherlands JE “Fany” Habibie said at a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday. “He is intelligent and was fully committed to an independent Papua.”

“He had refused to meet with Indonesian officials for dozens of years, but finally, he is willing to come to Indonesia. He even said he wants to be President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s adviser on Papua matters."

The ambassador, who was instructed by the President to meet Jouwe, said that the OPM chief called for action against corrupt officials.

Bakrie said Friday that he hoped to see a peace deal with the OPM similar to the 2005 agreement which ended a separatist rebellion in Aceh province.

During the 40-year conflict in Papua, which has also involved disputes over the exploitation of the area's rich mineral resources, campaigners have accused Indonesia's armed forces of many human rights abuses in the area.

"There is undoubtedly massive resentment in Papua towards Jakarta and there is a lot of disquiet at the way particularly the security forces handle matters and the repressive way they crack down in Papua," says Jakarta correspondent John Aglionby.

But, he says, the OPM is poorly co-ordinated and poorly financed and it is difficult to know how much support it has.

Q+A: Correspondent John Aglionby in Jakarta

20/03/2009 by David Page

The area was granted special autonomy status in 2000 and, Aglionby says, that has brought resources into local coffers.