A new study of the people from the Solomon Islands in Melanesia, a group of islands northeast of Australia, has shown that blond hair evolved differently, genetically speaking, than in Europeans. About 5-10% of the people in Melanesia have naturally blond hair, which is the highest prevalence outside of Europe.

This refutes the hypothesis that blond hair was introduced by colonial Europeans. Carlos Bustamante, a geneticist at Stanford University School of Medicine, in California, and his team published their findings in the journal Science.


Bustamante and his colleagues compared the genomes of 43 blond and 42 dark-haired Solomon Islanders. This revealed that the blond hair was strongly associated with a single mutation in the TYRP1 gene, which encodes an enzyme that influences pigmentation in mice and humans. In Europeans, several genes are known to contribute to blond hair, but TYRP1 isn’t involved.

They compared DNA between more than 900 Solomon Islanders and 900 other people from 52 populations around the world to find that the TYRP1 mutation is probably unique to the Oceanic region that includes Melanesia. About one-quarter Solomon Islanders carry the recessive gene, so two copies are needed to have blond hair.

However, not all occurrences of blond hair are the result of this particular mutation, but researchers have predicted that it accounts for about 30% of cases. Another 16% are attributed to age and gender (young children and women are more likely to have blond hair), while the rest is attributed to sun exposure and other undiscovered genes. It’s unusual that one specific mutation accounts for such a large proportion of an observable trait in a population.

Bustamante thinks that this mutation might have arisen between 5,000 and 30,000 years ago, but hasn’t been able to explain why it has reached such a high frequency in the Solomon Islands.

[via Nature]

A report from the Pacific Institute of Public Policy warns that unless there are urgent reforms to the style of parliamentary democracy practised across Melanesia, autocracy will takes its place.

The report claims it’s well past time to acknowledge that the Westminster style of government that’s been in place in Melanesian countries since their attainment of independence is failing the region.

The institute’s communications director, Ben Bohane, says poverty, a burgeoning youth population and land pressures are among the factors combining to cause some of democracy’s core elements to fray at the edges.

“There’s certainly not enough policy debate going on inside parliament, we’ve got parliaments that are being closed by the governing coalitions to prevent motions of no confidence which are happening on a very regular basis. So what we’re calling for is just the need for a bit more reform of these systems, we’re not saying junk them and throw them out.”

The Pacific Institute of Public Policy’s Ben Bohane.


The Australian Government’s defence think-tank says Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are struggling to survive as nations.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the Melanesian states are so weak they offer potential havens for terrorists. It says Australia must start nation building in the region, or risk seeing the creation of Melanesian badlands run by criminals, not governments.

DOBELL: The Institute is uncertain about the continued viability of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as nation states. It says their governments are weak, transient and hard to deal with, corruption is rife and economies are stagnant.

The review says the countries of Melanesia offer potential havens for terrorists and could serve as bases for attacks against Australia.

The author of the review, Aldo Borgu.

BORGU: “One of the issues that certainly has come to the fore since Afghanistan is the prospect of failed states offer and operating a base for a lot of these countries. I wouldn’t want to overstate the capabilities of groups like al Qaeda actually physically operate from the South Pacific.

” I mean in many cases these people would stand out in those areas. The problem is I think largely one of financing and particularly in terms of money laundering being able to go through those areas.

“But it’s also a case of taking advantage of the wider instability that could actually come about from those countries and the general lawlessness that we face. And I mean one of the things though that the South Pacific does also underline is that it’s not just the threat of terrorism that we face.

“I mean these countries have got substantial problems in their own right, which as we’ve seen a couple of years ago will actually call upon the government and the ADF to actually go in and protect and rescue Australian nationals. So it basically serves both purposes”.

DOBELL: The Strategic Policy Institute says Australia risks seeing Melanesia degenerate into lawless badlands ruled by criminals.

The government funded think-tank calls for Australia to take a new and active role in the South Pacific to deal with failing and failed states.

The Director of the Institute, Hugh White, says Australia needs a new policy paradigm for the South Pacific. He says this profound rethink means Australia must be willing to do nation building in the Pacific.

WHITE: “It sounds like nation building because that’s what it is, but you see I wouldn’t support the proposition that that is dangerous.

“Is it risky ? Is it costly ? Is it arduous ? Is it demanding? It’s all of those things, but are there alternatives?

“Well all I can say is under the old policy paradigm, which frankly you know people like me and people of my generation have been supporting and working within for 15 or 20 years.

“All we can say is under that policy paradigm we have in the Solomons a country in very, very deep trouble.

“And in PNG and Vanuatu for example countries whose trajectories are – to put it politely – far from promising.

“So all we know about the old approach is it hasn’t work, so I think we do need to look a bit at the alternatives.

“On the other hand the sort of scary aspect of that phrase nation building does remind us that you need to be very careful about how you get into this business.

“So it’s not just a matter of saying well let’s get in there.

“And in particular let’s not think that this is our reversion to colonialism or whatever else it ought to be it better not be that”.

A new Pacific think tank is being launched by New Zealand to promote fresh thinking on the region.

The Pacific Cooperation Foundation begins work on July the first with a grant from the New Zealand Government of 675 thousand dollars. The foundation’s interim chief executive is Gerald McGhie, a former diplomat with nearly 40 years experience. Mr McGhie says New Zealand has to acknowledge gaps in its understanding and performance in the Pacific.

MCGHIE: “Let’s have a look at our performance in some of these microstates and see how we’ve emerged after 30 years of independence. Things don’t look too good in the Solomons, particularly bad in fact and Papua New Guinea is not an area of tranquility at all. We need to know more about this and we need to get it out more to the community”.

DOBELL: What are the new realities in the Pacific that New Zealand needs to confront?

MCGHIE: “We don’t have such a Melanesian focus I think as Australia does. Ours is more of a Polynesian focus but we are certainly aware of Melanesia. But the realities in the Pacific we have spelled out back in 1970, the late 60s when I was in and around my first posting in the Pacific, you know the ethnicity, governance, those things were seen there in the very early stages with Berry Boyd, one of our academics at Victoria University.

“They were seen as economically non-viable and political and social fragmentation as well as over inflated bureaucracies I think you know were going to become a problem in the Pacific”.

DOBELL: So if those fragmentation issues haven’t changed how do the responses have to change?

MCGHIE: “I think at least we might start with an acknowledgement of the fact that we haven’t had our antenna as acutely tuned as we might have. I’m part of that; I was High Commissioner in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s, a particularly difficult country to get your ear to the ground realistically of.

“But the question, you know look at New Zealand’s All Black rugby team for instance and see the huge Polynesian input we have there, people have a tendency to think that we have Samoans and Tongans etc. in our All Black team therefore we understand the Pacific, look how they’re involved with us. It to me is a fragmented involvement.

“But you don’t really get an automatic move to saying ok, terrorism in the Pacific, globalisation and discontent in the Pacific Islands, how is it destroying these communities and what does this mean for us and the inevitable stability of their own areas?”

DOBELL: And what is your prognosis for stability?

MCGHIE: “More of the same with perhaps some more surprises. I don’t think that Fiji presents me with the greatest encouraging outlooks, I led our peacekeeping monitoring team to the Solomon Islands after the Townsville agreement very, very well organised by the Australians I might say, and I think that was just a ceasefire between the hot fighting, between the Malaitans and the Gualies and I don’t see any real change there.

“I think it seems more of the same. Papua New Guinea I’m not quite as apocalyptic as perhaps some Australians are on that, I think there is a bit more stability and also just how fragmented it is makes it very difficult for coups to take place.

“But I don’t make any predictions that are at all comfortable. If you have things like HIV-AIDS coming away in the Pacific I think we could look very much to some real problems for Australia and New Zealand and their health services activities.

“Certainly for New Zealand we have very close links with many countries and I think the failed state syndrome a lot of people think we’ve done enough, we’re doing patrolling, monitoring, visiting, talking to the kids of the place, but the cost of a failed state will be far more than any of the work that we’re doing at the moment it seems to me”.


UN Justice Officials wanted General Wiranto tried for Crime of Humanity, while the Timorese leaders wanted Reconciliation with Indonesians

 At the ASEAN Regional Forum held in Nanjing, China, GPAJ President explained that the UN had pursued retributive justice while Timor-Leste preferred restorative justice and reconciliation and friendship following establishment of truth.

General Wiranto with President Suharto in 1999

 At the ASEAN Regional Forum workshop held on preventive diplomacy on 29-30 November 2018 in Nanjing, China, Professor Hasegawa who was Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste from 2004 to 2006 shared with the participants lessons he had learned from successful preventive diplomacy conducted by Timor-Leste leaders with Indonesia and Australia.

 According to Hasegawa, there are three valuable lessons learned from successful preventive diplomacy carried out by Timor-Leste leaders in their quest for post-conflict reconciliation and peace with Indonesia and maritime boundary negotiations with Australia 2018. They are the importance of sustaining first commitment to moral law in rebuilding the relationship among countries and secondly maintaining the principle of international law in settlement of disputes among nations regarding territorial issues. Thirdly, these two insights to conflict resolutions reveal the need for (1) change in the mindset and mentality of political leaders and (2) change in the structure of international system of governance. Hasegawa then stressed the importance of reforming the global governance structure as the human nature will not change as shown in the history of mankind spanning over the last several thousand years.

  1. Lessons learned from successful post-conflict reconciliation between Timor-Leste and Indonesia  During the period of 24 years of Indonesian occupation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999, approximately 100,000–180,000 soldiers and civilians are estimated to have been killed by the Indonesian National Armed Forces or starved to death. This accounted for one-fifth of the entire population. After the political independence achieved through the popular consultation organized by the United Nations in August 1999, the United Nations established a serious crimes unit to carry out criminal investigations of Human Rights violations alleged to have been committed in East Timor by Indonesian and pro-Indonesian military forces during 1999. Head Justice Phillip Rapoza of the hybrid special court on serious crimes consisting of UN appointed and Timorese judges then issued an arrest warrant for former Indonesian armed forces commander, General Wiranto, for war crimes committed immediately before and after East Timorese casted vote for independence. It was one of several arrest warrants issued for some 20 Indonesia military commanders. (Hasegawa, Sukehiro. Peacebuilding and National Ownership in Timor-Leste, Routledge, 2013, New York, p.167.)  This action was taken based on the theory of retributive justice which focused on punishment of the criminals who should get their share of responsibility for moral blameworthiness. This approach was pursued by the United Nations on the belief that the best response to a crime is a punishment proportional to the offense inflicted. While the prevention of future crimes was not considered of prime importance in determining the extent of punishments, the United Nations regarded the application of retributive justice critical in reducing the prospect for future crimes of serious nature and increasing the prospect for achieving sustainable peace.  After World War II, the international community started in 1945 judicial process on crimes against humanity first at the international military tribunals (IMT) in Nuremberg and in Tokyo. Since then, the notion of crimes against humanity has evolved under international customary law and through the jurisdictions of international courts such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court. With the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998, the International Criminal Court was established for the purpose of ruling any ‘crime against humanity’ that is committed against any civilian population that included murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape and sexual slavery.  Apart from the retributive approach, another process was launched in South Africa after the end of apartheid in the 1990`s in the form of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Commonly known as the Mandela approach, this approach constituted a court-like restorative justice body assembled to enable perpetrators of violence to give testimony of their acts and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. The Timorese leaders were willing to go one step further and agreed with the Indonesian counters to constitute a Truth and Friendship Commission. The Commission was officially created in August 2005 to investigate acts of violence that occurred around the independence referendum held in East Timor in 1999 and sought to find the “conclusive truth” behind the events and notably “prepare recommendations that can contribute to healing wounds of the past and strengthen friendship”. In other words, the Commission was tasked with strengthening peace and friendship between the two countries by revealing the conclusive truth about the nature, scope, and causes of the violence committed in East Timor in 1999.  The significance of the approach adopted by Timor-Leste and Indonesia is the fact that they did not follow the strictly legalistic approach and applied the moralistic approach that accorded forgiveness and generosity over vengeance and punishment.
  2. Resolution of maritime boundary disputes between Timor-Leste and Australia  In the case of its negotiation with Australia about the maritime boundary, the Timorese leaders adhered to the rule established by the multilateral institution, i.e. the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Insisting that the maritime arrangements Australia had made with Indonesia was not only an expedient product but in violation with the international law. While Australia had sought a boundary aligned with its continental shelf, Timor-Leste argued the border should lie half way between Timor-Leste and Australia – placing much of the Greater Sunrise fields under its control. The fields are estimated to hold 5.1 trillion cubic feet of gas and 226 million barrels of condensates estimated worth $40 billion. The final agreement marks the maritime border around the median line between the two countries – a concept supported by international law and at odds with Australia’s long-running claim of entitlement over the continental shelf. The treaty recognizes the rights of both nations, and establishes a special regime for the joint development, exploitation and management of the Greater Sunrise gas fields. The treaty was the result of the first-ever concluded between two countries.

As the British newspaper, The Guardian reported on March 6, 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “This ceremony demonstrates the strength of international law, and the effectiveness of resolving disputes through peaceful means.” conciliation under the UN convention on the law of the sea.

  1. Need for reforming the international system of governance.
     Professor Hasegawa identified two root causes of conflicts. First it was never ending greed for power and wealth held by human beings. The leaders need to free themselves from their own greed and appetite for gaining and maintaining personal power and wealth. This was the third kind of freedom that philosopher Immanuel Kant talked about and they constituted “bonno” in Buddhism.  As we are living in the Hobbesian world of anarchy, we are at war of all against all.  During the last century alone, we had colonial wars, Balkan Wars, World War I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iran/Iraq War, etc. According to the IWM, as many as 187 million people killed in wars during the 20th century alone. History has taught us that human nature does not change. If this is the case, we need to develop an international system of governance that transcend the Westphalian system of independent sovereign nation states. Nation states have fought time and again as no superior power existed to restrain and govern them properly.  As Einstein has said, It is “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Professor Hasegawa then referred to the Paris Peace Forum launched by President Macron of France and attended by such other world leaders as Chancellor Merkel of Germany, President Putin of Russian, President Erdogran of Turkey, and other heads of states and government. Hasegawa then proposed to activate Article 109 of the UN Charter to transform the structure of the United Nations from that of the Nation-States as Article 2 states to that of the Nations United for One World. He then quoted Einstein again. “Problems we face today cannot be solved at the level of thinking we were at when we created them. Pen is mightier than sword, but imagination is more powerful than knowledge.”

The paramount chief of Kurumabe Village on Tongoa Island in Vanuatu has praised the Australian Government for funding the village’s first ever water system.

The system, running on solar power, pumps water up a one hundred metre high cliff to Kurumabe.

Chief Taripoamata says it is the first time in the village’s 600 year history. it has had a proper water supply.

Australia’s deputy high commissioner, Mark Grey, who opened the system, says Australia believes that water is a right for all and they are most happy to help the village.

He says the project is an example of joint partnership between the Australian Government, the Vanuatu Government and the people of Tongoa Island.

Chief Taripoamata has set up a committee to ensure the system is extended to all the nearby villages, schools and the airfield, and that it is properly maintained.


The United Nations today indicted Indonesia’s former armed forces commander, General Wiranto, for crimes against humanity during East Timor’s bloody 1999 vote for independence.

Gen Wiranto, regarded as the man principally responsible for the bloodletting that swept the former Indonesian territory during the UN-sponsored referendum, was indicted alongside six other senior generals and the ex-governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares.

However, it seems doubtful that Indonesia will hand over any of those indicted to the court in Dili, East Timor’s capital. Jakarta has so far refused to honour UN arrest warrants, and today said it would “simply ignore” the latest UN request.

“He [Gen Wiranto] is a free man … Why take action?” said Indonesia’s foreign minister, Hassan Wirayuda. “Who gave [the UN] the mandate to indict Indonesians, under what basis, what authority?”

The UN said in a statement: “The accused have all been charged with crimes against humanity for murder, deportation and persecution.”

The alleged crimes “were all undertaken as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population of East Timor and specifically targeted those who were believed to be supporters of independence for East Timor”.

The mandate for the Dili court covers all crimes committed in 1999 in East Timor, irrespective of whether the suspects are East Timorese or Indonesian. So far it has indicted 178 people, but 106 of those – including 12 Indonesian soldiers – remain free in Indonesia. Thus far Indonesia has not sent any of its nationals to East Timor to face trials in such cases.

Prosecutors in Dili have sent the warrants for the latest eight indictments to the attorney general’s office and will forward them to the international law enforcement agency, Interpol. Under East Timorese law, the charges carry a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment.

“I accept that we can’t at the moment effect those arrest warrants,” said Stuart Alford, a prosecutor with the serious crimes unit in Dili. “But that doesn’t mean we are the only people who can play their part in this. It’s now up to other people outside the prosecutor’s office in East Timor to decide what direction this investigation and prosecution will take.”

Human rights groups, which have long called for Gen Wiranto to be held accountable for the events of August 1999, praised the indictment but said they will only be satisfied when the UN establishes an international tribunal for East Timor, similar to that used to prosecute war crimes suspects in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

“This is more of a political victory than a legal victory,” said Agung Yudhawiranata, a court observer for the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, an Indonesian human rights group.

“We know Wiranto will not be handed over to the Dili court but hopefully it will send a shock to the Indonesian government, which has failed to indict Wiranto and put pressure on the international community to set up an international tribunal.”

Lawyers for the men, all of whom are believed to be in Indonesia, said they had yet to receive the indictment and declined to comment.

The indictment charges Gen Wiranto, six generals who were responsible for security in East Timor and ex-governor Soares with funding, training and arming the pro-Indonesia militias that joined the Indonesian military in killing more than 1,000 people and forcing 250,000 Timorese to flee their homes before and after the referendum.

The six generals are Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim, Major General Kiki Syahnakri, Major General Adam Rachmat Damiri, Colonel Suhartono Suratman, Colonel Mohammad Noer Muis and Lieutenant Colonel Yayat Sudrajat.

Last year Indonesia established a special human rights court to handle cases covering the violence in East Timor. Several of those indicted today were among 18 military and police officials already facing trial in Jakarta for their alleged involvement in the violence. Soares has been sentenced to three years, but remains free on appeal, while the trials of Mr Damiri and Mr Suratman are continuing. Mr Sudrajat has been cleared of all charges.

Jakarta points to the trials as proof of its commitment to assure justice. But human rights activists have criticised the trials as a whitewash. In total, only four suspects have been found guilty.

Today’s indictment accuses the men of involvement in 280 killings in 10 separate attacks. Among them were a church massacre in Liquica, an attack on a rally in Dili and an attack on a church compound in Dili.

In 1975, Indonesian forces invaded East Timor, annexing the former Portuguese colony the following year. After 24 years of Indonesian rule, East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in August 1999, despite the bloodshed by pro-Jakarta militias in which more than 1,000 people, most of them independence supporters, are thought to have died. The UN indictment says the militias acted with military backing.

The UN ran East Timor after the August 1999 vote until the territory was declared formally independent in May last year, but it still has a mission there that provides government advisers, several hundred policemen and about 2,500 peacekeeping troops.

Around 300 UN peacekeepers combed mountains and beaches in East Timor today, searching for unidentified gunmen who opened fire yesterday on a crowded minibus and a truck, killing two people and injuring five. The UN said the incident, the latest in a series of violent episodes since East Timor became independent last May, appeared to be a botched robbery.

Staff and agencies
Source: The Guardian.

PRESIDIUM DEWAN PAPUA International Relations


Leadership change in Indonesia and the threat of military power revival under the country’s new President Megawati Sukarnoputri will do little to dampen Melanesian nationalism in West Papua or diminish the province’s growing demand for self-determination and independence.

The statement, issued in Port Moresby today in the wake of Indonesia’s dramatic political developments of the past few days culminating in the forced dethroning of former President Abdurrahman Wahid and elevation of his one-time deputy, Vice President Sukarnoputri, to the country’s chief executive post, reaffirms the position of the Papua Council or Dewan Papua, the broad-based indigenous West Papuan organization spearheading the independence campaign.

“Irrespective of the power game unfolding in Jakarta, we remain unperturbed in our noble resolve to pursue every conceivable endeavor to reclaim our homeland and free our people from foreign domination, misery and annihilation,” the statement said, quoting Mr. Franzalbert Joku, Papua Council Presidium’s Papua New Guinea-based chief international spokesperson.

“No amount of persuasion or intimidation will sway us from our conviction that ours is a genuine and legitimate cause. We are seeking what is rightfully ours and we will not rest until that mission is fully accomplished one way or the other.”

In congratulating Ms. Sukarnoputri, Mr. Joku cautioned the new President against contemplating military solution over West Papua and other trouble regions such as Aceh and Maluku. Instead, in his statement, he appealed to the new Indonesian leader and her incoming Cabinet to support the Papua Council initiative on peaceful dialogue as a way to reaching an amicable resolution.

“I urge her (Ms. Sukarnoputri) and the new government of Indonesia to accept their responsibility to protect the basic rights of their citizens, including that of the people of West Papua, and make vigorous efforts at exploring alternatives to repression to resolve the multitude of political problems in that part of the world,” Mr. Joku said.

“Generally speaking, however, the change of leadership in Indonesia is a welcome development, as it is a matter of national, regional and international concern that a peaceful transition to democracy has a chance in Indonesia and its 200 million people saved from violent military rule and human rights violations.”

Franzalbert Joku International Relations Moderator Papua Council Presidium Telephone/Facsimile (675) 323-0832 E-mail:

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email:  Internet:


West Papua – Still struggling for freedom

Sem Karoba is a student leader and representative of the West Papua Presidium Council (West Papua's alternative to the Indonesian government) who is on his second visit to Ireland, lobbying for international support for his people. More than 100,000 West Papuans have been killed in the last 41 years. For all these years, people in West Papua have fought for the right to self-determination.
Sem Karoba is a student leader and representative of the West Papua Presidium Council (West Papua’s alternative to the Indonesian government) who is on his second visit to Ireland, lobbying for international support for his people. More than 100,000 West Papuans have been killed in the last 41 years. For all these years, people in West Papua have fought for the right to self-determination.

However, their struggle and their rights have been ignored not only by the media, but also by the leaders of the international community, who worry more about how the possible “Balkanisation” of Indonesia would affect their economies than about the lives and future of West Papuans. The fact that West Papuans are sitting on some of the world’s richest deposits of oil, copper, gold and silver does not help. In fact, that is a large part of the reason they are suffering now.

Everything started back in the 1950s, when the Netherlands – which ruled West Papua since 1883 – recognised the Papuan right to self-determination in accordance with Article 72 of the Charter of the United Nation. Had not Indonesia interfered, West Papua would have achieved self-determination by 1970 – as happened to the eastern part of the island, Papua New Guinea, which gained full independence from the British in 1975.

But Indonesia wanted to integrate West Papua into its territories, and in 1961, Indonesian president Sukarno chose armed conflict to force the issue at a time when the first parliament had already been installed in West Papua and the national anthem and Papuan flag had been introduced. The Dutch government agreed with the US and Indonesia – with the support of the United Nations – to transfer sovereignty to Indonesia. After years of terror and repression, a fraudulent ‘referendum was held in 1969, when 1,025 people voted under duress, on behalf of a population of a million, to join Indonesia.

Since then, West Papuans have suffered genocide while the country’s resources have been taken away by US Free Port, mining gold and copper and by Britain BP’s gas projects. Their land and culture is under threat as the Indonesians keep implementing a very aggressive transmigration policy – with many similarities to the Plantation in Ireland.

For West Papuans, the so-called democratisation of Indonesia has not meant any change. The governments of Sukarno, Suharto, Wahid or Sukarno’s daughter’s, Megawati Sukarnoputri, have only brought them increasing suffering and repression.

But West Papuans feel that their time have come. They rely on the East Timor experience to know it is possible to break away from the Indonesian colonial power, but again, the international community’s role is crucial for their plans. This is the reason why Karoba is back in Ireland.

Phoblacht: The last time you visited Ireland, in the summer of 2001, Wahid was president of Indonesia. Since then, he has been deposed and Megawati Sukarnoputri has taken the reins of the country. How has this change affected West Papua’s situation?

Sem Karoba: The presidency of Megawati is like Suharto’s. The military are the main players in politics. However, they have changed their ways: they would ask Parliament to approve their bills, as some of their activities in Aceh and West Papua need parliamentary sanction. However, there are many army representatives who sit in parliament. They have money and power, and the reason they use to justify their actions is that this is the only way to preserve Indonesia as it is. This is the way of nationalism. So, the politicians do not have the strength to argue with them. Even Megawati cannot take any action against those members of the army who were behind the attack against her office in 1997. The army officer in command at the time of the attack is now on his second term as governor of Jakarta city.

AP: In 2001, you mentioned that there were possibilities of advancing the situation while Wahid was in power, as he was more of a negotiator. What about Megawati?

SK: Now the door is closed. They are not talking any more. Since the last time I was in Ireland, Theys Eluay, the leader of the West Papuan Presidium Council, has been killed (the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy reported that he had been abducted, tortured and assassinated). I left Ireland in October 2001 and I was still travelling when news of his death reached me in November. Another elder from the area I am from was also poisoned after attending a meeting on sustainable development in Bali.

Finishing off the leaders was the policy after Megawati came to power. She actually proposed this policy to Wahid – we have gotten hold of this document recently – who opposed it. As soon as she took power, she started killing the leaders in Aceh and West Papua.

Due to pressure from the international community – who are pushing for the idea of autonomy – she had to order the withdrawal of the Indonesian Special Forces from West Papua at the beginning of the month. This was due to their many mistakes, like the killing of two US citizens last year. So now, officially the Special Forces are not present in West Papua, but they are still there, and the militia is still there.

AP: What are West Papuans doing at the moment?

SK: What we are trying to do is bring our situation to the attention of the international community. The Indonesians are not interested in dialogue, so we need international pressure. They go to London, New York and Canberra to ask for opinion and these three countries are telling them that Indonesia should keep West Papua. If Indonesia took over West Papua when the Dutch left it was not only because they wanted to do it, but because the international community allowed them to do it. So now we are going to the international lobby to ask them to force Indonesia into dialogue.

AP: The problem is that the international community is now too focused on what is happening in relation to Iraq to actually worry about West Papua.

SK: Our strategy is to lobby quietly now, so when out time comes we will be ready. We have increased the number of our grassroots supporters in England, for example, and I expect to do the same in Ireland, so we can send a clear message to the politicians in relation to the situation in West Papua.

AP: How has 9/11 and the new international scenario of war affected the situation of West Papua?

SK: Indonesia is the biggest Islamic state in Asia. Many members of the Muslim Jihad and Muslim extremists have gone into hiding in Indonesia. I have personally come across some of them in West Papua and in Indonesia. Examples of their activity are the bombing in Bali and the increased killings in West Papua. Now, in the name of Islam, they are giving guns and coverage to all these people, telling them that to defend the integrity of Indonesia is the same as defending Islam, that is the message they are sending. Maluku and West Papuans are Christians and the Indonesian government is sending all those Jihad troops to these areas. So, this is one of the reasons why the international community is listening more to us.

The support of the international community for our cause it is not clear yet, because most of the international powers have important business dealings with Indonesia.

AP: You have met several politicians here in Ireland. What has their reaction been?

SK: Their reaction has been positive, because they have a historical knowledge of why independence is so important. They welcome our presence; they support our cause as long as we defend it in a democratic way. But to make it work we need their support.

Indonesian politicians do not even reply to our approaches, but they will listen to international opinion.

I am here to learn about the Irish process and the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. I want to listen to those who were involved in the negotiations and I want to meet those who worked behind the scenes. A process of this kind is very difficult, but they started it and they are on the way to completion. We want something similar to take place in West Papua.

It is difficult, and many people in my country, and mostly in the area I am from, would not support any kind of dialogue with Indonesians, and that is what I want to learn, how to deal with all these situations.