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The BBC's Richard Galpin reports
"The trip is part of a campaign to halt separatist calls before it's too late"
 real 28k

The BBC's Clare Arthurs reports
"The economy of the territory is based on agriculture and mining"
 real 28k

Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 10:31 GMT
Indonesia apologises to Irian Jaya

Irian Jaya map

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, has apologised to the people of the eastern province of Irian Jaya for human rights abuses committed against them by Indonesian troops.

Fragile Archipelago
He was speaking during a visit to the region, where there has been a strong demand to break away from Indonesia.

"I am officially conveying my apology for the human rights violations in Papua, Aceh, Ambon and other provinces," he told a meeting with religious and civic leaders in Jayapura, the capital of Irian Jaya.

Volatile situation

As for an independent Papua state ... I will not tolerate efforts to build a country within a country
President Abdurrahman Wahid
During the visit - interrupted by separatist demonstrators - he held talks with tribal and community leaders and agreed that Irian Jaya should revert to its former name of West Papua.

But the president ruled out the possibility of independence for the province.

"As for an independent Papua state ... I will not tolerate efforts to build a country within a country," he said.

Separatist voices grow louder

Observers in the province criticised the president's words, saying they could inflame an already volatile situation. They said Mr Wahid should have stressed the need for dialogue.

But a spokesman for the West Papua People's Front, Victor Kaisiepo, welcomed the apology as an important step forward in restoring democracy.

He also told the BBC the name change amounted to an important acknowledgement of the aspirations of the people of Papua.

Mr Wahid's visit came as part a promise made soon after his election last October to visit regions where separatist voices are growing stronger - including the Muslim province of Aceh in the east - to discuss their grievances.

Although separatist sentiment in Irian Jaya is strong, the violence has been on a lesser scale than in Aceh or the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, which voted on August 30 to break from Indonesia.

But correspondents say Aceh and Irian Jaya are unlikely to get any international support for their aspirations as they are recognised as legitimate parts of Indonesia.

Mr Wahid has talked of offering Irian Jaya autonomy, but the Free Papua Movement (OPM) says this is not enough - it wants full independence.

Rebels maintain that the region has been independent since 1961, when its Dutch rulers agreed to allow self-determination.

Local and international human rights activists have the accused Indonesian military of committing the abuses in Irian Jaya under the pretext of a military operation to suppress the OPM.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Irian Jayans call for independence
01 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Irian Jaya: A troubled history
The fragile archipelago
01 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Morning Star flies in Irian Jaya
19 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesia rules out Aceh independence
30 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesia withdraws troops from Moluccas
01 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Timor leader returns home

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