INTERVIEW-Freed Papua activist pledges to reinvigorate independence movement

by Reuters
Monday, 30 November 2015 10:45 GMT

By Randy Fabi and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Prominent Papua activist Filep Karma, released this month after more than a decade behind bars, promised on Monday to reinvigorate the independence movement against Indonesia and was prepared to go back to prison if necessary.

President Joko Widodo wants to open up the remote and impoverished region to foreign journalists and investors, but a more aggressive separatist movement could lead the military and police to quickly reverse such efforts.

A small separatist movement has kept the resource-rich region, home to Freeport McMoRan's Grasberg copper and gold mine and BP's Tangguh LNG plant, under the close supervision of security authorities.

Papua province makes up the western half of an island that includes the country of Papua New Guinea to the east.

"We are in high spirits to fight for our freedom because our struggle can be heard globally as Papua has been opened up to foreign journalists," said Karma, who was one of the most high-profile Papua political prisoners before his release on Nov. 19.

"In the past, people said that our struggle for independence was only a dream. But now, people...say that it is something certain," he added in a telephone interview from Papua's capital of Jayapura, without elaborating on his strategy.

Karma was arrested in December 2004 for taking part in a ceremony raising the pro-independence Morning Star flag. A court sentenced him to 15 years in prison, sparking protests from Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Indonesian authorities approved his early release months ago, but Karma refused to admit guilt in line with demands from the government. Authorities in the end agreed to release him on good behaviour.

Karma welcomed the president's efforts to open up the province, but did not think Widodo had enough power over the military and police to really decide Papua's future.

"I trust Jokowi as a person, but I do not trust him as a president," Karma said referring to the president by his nickname. "As president and the highest commander, he has no influence over the military and police."

Palace officials were not immediately available for comment.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia under a widely criticized U.N.-backed vote in 1969, after Jakarta took over the area in 1963 at the end of Dutch colonial rule.

Asked whether he would conduct another ceremony with the Morning Star flag, Karma said: "I will not say here whether I will raise the flag or not. I have been raising the flag in my heart and in my mind." (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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