March 27, 2007 / 7:46 AM / 12 years ago

Australia risks Papua conflict role -- activists

(Adds quotes, recasts lead)

By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA, March 27 (Reuters) - Australia risks being dragged into an undeclared separatist war in Indonesia’s restive Papua province by a "dirty deal" done with Jakarta on a new security pact, rights activists and minor party lawmakers said on Tuesday.

A treaty between the two neighbours, signed on the Indonesian island of Lombok in November, cast Canberra as a de facto Indonesian ally in the long-running conflict, a report by Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies said.

"It’s a very dirty deal indeed. We have Australia undertaking a deliberate, crude act of appeasement," report author Peter King said, accusing Canberra of caving in to Indonesian anger over refugee visas given last year to 43 Papuan separatists.

The treaty aims to smooth prickly ties between the two countries and underline Australian support for Jakarta’s sovereignty over separatist-leaning provinces including mineral-rich Papua, Maluku and Aceh.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said last year the pact would lead to stronger anti-terrorism cooperation and joint naval border patrols, as well as joint civilian nuclear research and Australian sales of uranium to Indonesia.

But rights groups said the pact, which clears the way for joint counter-terrorism training between special forces, would give Indonesia’s Kopassus commandos new skills to be used against Papuan separatists.

King said Australia’s government was "blundering in" to the Papua conflict to make up for embarrassing Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his human rights record in Papua.

Independent lawmaker Peter Andren said that if Australia had adopted a similar treaty ahead of East Timor’s independence, East Timorese leaders like Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta might never have won their long independence struggle.

"The West Papuan situation is the forgotten human rights tragedy of our region," Andren said.

Upper House Australian Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja said the treaty, which replaces a defence pact torn up by Jakarta in 1999 after Australia’s military intervention in East Timor, should be "re-drafted, re-thought and re-written".

Paula Makabory, from the Indonesian rights group Elsham, said Canberra should insist on access to tightly controlled Papua for Australian lawmakers before ratifying the treaty.

Indonesia has been angered by pro-Papuan independence groups based in Australia and demanded Canberra curtail their actions.

The treaty was agreed following militant bomb attacks in Bali in 2002 and 2005, as well as on Australia’s Jakarta embassy in 2003, which together killed 92 Australians and scores of Indonesian and foreign bystanders.

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