Papua crisis overshadows
Obama’s visit to Indonesia

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Obama_2.main story.jpg

US President Barack Obama is expected to raise human rights issues in Indonesia’s Papua during his second visit to Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and a key US ally in the increasingly strategic region.

US Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, a ranking member of the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific at the US House of Representatives, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that he hoped Obama would raise the issue of Papua with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his visit to Bali for the East Asia Summit.

Faleomavaega raised concerns about a fatal shooting on Oct. 19 in Jayapura during the third Papuan People’s Congress, which attracted a crowd of about 5,000 Papuans.

The police and the military forcibly dispersed the assembly and arrested 300 people.

At least three dead bodies were found near the venue, leading to an allegation that the police had committed human rights violations while dispersing the congress.

The government has denied the accusation, insisting that the police followed the correct procedures in forcibly breaking up the congress, which contained elements of treason, according to the Indonesian government.

Faleomavaega and Congressman Donald Payne, a ranking member of the subcommittee on Africa and human rights, said that key leaders in the US Congress had asked that Indonesia “be held accountable before further US funds were expended in training Indonesian security forces”.

Faleomavaega and Payne also asked the Indonesian government to release political prisoner Filep Karma, who was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2004 for raising the outlawed Morning Star flag, which is seen by the government as a symbol of separatism.

The UN has declared that Karma’s detention is an infringement of international law, New York human rights group Freedom Now says.

“The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued its opinion that the government of Indonesia is in violation of international law by detaining Filep Karma,” the watchdog says in a press release received by the Post on Thursday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has made the same call to Obama to address human rights issues in Papua with Yudhoyono. “The Obama administration’s deepening relationship with Indonesia means being frank about Indonesia’s serious human rights challenges,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW.

Violence against civilians in Papua and the incarceration of independence activists have drawn concerns from Amnesty International, Freedom Now, a non-partisan organization that works to free prisoners of conscience, and Hogan Lovells LLP, an international law firm.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto, however, said that the Papua issue would not be discussed at either the 6th East Asia Summit or the earlier 19th ASEAN Summit.

“It is an internal problem, it has nothing to do with the pattern of ASEAN cooperation,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

Faleomavaega said he could understand the difficulties President Yudhoyono faced when there was a different agenda for the summits.

“However, it is my sincere hope that President Obama will personally raise the issue of Papua with President [Yudhoyono] when they meet,” he said.

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