Dáil Éireann - Volume 588 - 24 June, 2004

Other Questions. - Foreign Conflicts.

  7. Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government has made contact with the United Nations with regard to the situation in west Papua and the possible review of the Act of Free Choice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18767/04]

  Mr. Cowen: As I stated on a number of occasions, the question of a review of the Act of Free Choice in Papua would require the support of UN member states. Inquiries made by our permanent representative to the UN confirm that at present there is no significant support for such an initiative. There is, moreover, concern that such an approach might prejudice ongoing efforts to develop a meaningful dialogue with the Government in Jakarta and would not contribute to the amelioration of the current situation of the Papuan people.

While acknowledging Indonesia’s legitimate concern to preserve its territorial integrity, we continue to encourage the Government of Indonesia to strengthen its efforts to address the legitimate aspirations of the people of Papua. In this regard, I welcomed the decision in August 2003 of the Government of Indonesia to suspend the implementation of the presidential decree dividing Papua into three provinces. I regret, however, that this suspension has been described by the Government of Indonesia as temporary.

At the April 2003 meeting of the EU External Relations Council, Ireland, together with our EU partners, adopted Council conclusions on Indonesia. These confirmed the EU’s support for the territorial integrity of Indonesia and stressed the importance of the full implementation, in both letter and spirit, of the special autonomy law in Papua. This law dates from November 2001 but has not yet been implemented. It provides for a greater degree of autonomy for Papua than for Indonesia’s other provinces.

As a demonstration of our commitment as Presidency to raise the level of our political dialogue with Indonesia, I led an EU ministerial Troika meeting with the Indonesian foreign minister on 18 April last. This was the first meeting at this level between the EU Presidency and Indonesia in a number of years. In particular, I [94] used the occasion to express the EU’s continuing concerns about the situation in Papua. The Minister took note of our concerns and expressed his belief that the special autonomy law will satisfy the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of people in Papua. I made it clear that we would carefully monitor the situation in this regard.

Officials of my Department regularly discuss the situation in Papua with their counterparts from Indonesia and representatives of various Papuan NGOs, as well as from third countries, such as Australia and the United States. Ireland, together with our EU partners, will continue to support the development of a strengthened partnership and effective dialogue between the EU and Indonesia. The Government sees this as the most effective framework at this time for addressing our serious concerns about the situation in Papua.

  Mr. G. Mitchell: The Minister will be aware west Papuans state that their misery began when a UN-assisted vote in 1969 allowed 1,022 elders, who they claim were bribed and intimidated, to support the territory’s assimilation into Indonesia. These elders were deemed to represent one million west Papuans. They voted unanimously, not in an act of free choice, but in what is now known as an act of no choice. Will the Minister tell the House what is the view of the Secretary General of the United Nations on this matter, given the UN official who oversaw the event has since described it as a whitewash? While I understand discussions are ongoing in Jakarta, and these issues can be sensitive, what is the view of the UN Secretary General in this regard and has the Minister discussed the matter with him?

  Mr. Cowen: I have not discussed the matter directly with the Secretary General. I presume his view is the one outlined here, based on the inquiries our UN permanent representative has been making, which is that it will require the support of UN member states, which is not currently available, and there must be constructive dialogue with Indonesia to try to get it to implement the special autonomy law as the best way forward.

  Mr. Gormley: At the meeting of 18 July last, did the Minister ask the Foreign Minister why they were dragging their feet on the implementation of the special autonomy law?

  Mr. Cowen: In the past, different Governments have been in charge of Indonesia. The present Indonesian Government will perhaps be more open to deal constructively with the matter than was the case in the past.

  Mr. Gormley: Why are they dragging their feet on this? That is what the NGOs want to know.

  Mr. Cowen: Obviously, it is because there has not been the political will in the Indonesian Government to move on these matters in the way [95] we would like. The autonomy law was adopted in 2001, although its provisions had been rejected by a number of local leaders in the province. A presidential decree in January 2004 implemented the law and an earlier law from late 1999, which had divided Papua into three provinces. That division was rejected by local leaders as a dilution of autonomy. An attempt by the government in August 2003 to implement the presidential decree was met with violence in which three people died. As a result, the government shelved plans for dividing the province while emphasising that this was not a complete cancellation of the policy.

Under the autonomy law, special autonomies are offered within the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia. The territorial integrity of Indonesia is a huge issue for the Indonesian Government and for the stability of that region. The Papuan provincial government would have control over all matters other than international relations, defence, monetary policy, religion and the supreme court. It would be able to conduct international relations in so far as they related to trade, investment, culture and technology. Papua was also to have its own flag, coat of arms and anthem but as cultural symbols rather than symbols of sovereignty.

The provincial police force remains part of the national police force. The provincial government would have no say in the deployment of Indonesian troops in the province. Transmigration, the programme under which Indonesians from other parts of the country have been moved to Papua, would continue in consultation with the governor. The law also stipulates that revenue from natural resources will go to the provincial government but does not stipulate the percentage.

Clearly, attempts to implement the law have been resisted.

  Mr. Gormley: Why?

  Mr. Cowen: It does not go far enough to meet the aspirations of some Papuans.