Papua New Guinea bishop: "Islamic extremists coming to West Papua"

Bishop Giles Cote said terrorists were entering the Indonesian part of the island, with the consent of elements of Jakarta's army, to fight against the Free Papua Movement.

Canberra (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Islamic extremist groups are entering West Papuan territory, with the consent of elements of the Indonesian army, to set up bases there. The charge has been leveled, according to a report in the Australian daily, "The Australian" by Giles Cote, the bishop of a diocese of Papua New Guinea on the border with West Papua, the Indonesian part of the island. The bishop said the extremists were fighting supporters of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM). 

 "Our information indicates that jihad militants are in West Papua to do the dirty work of the police and military," said Bishop Cote, whose diocese of Western Province borders Papua.  Cote said the extremists were coming from Mindanao Island in the south of the Philippines and from Sulawesi and other islands in northern Indonesia. He voiced concern about the decision of Jakarta to shift thousands of Indonesian troops to Papua from Aceh, where Jakarta resolved an age-old separatist rebellion last year.

Nick Chesterfield, Free West Papua Campaign Australian organizer, said the bishop's comments backed OPM claims that Muslim extremists were being armed by the Indonesian army to form militias to fight the pro-independence movement.  He confirmed that at the end of last year, Indonesian troops were flown from the Lhoksamawe district of Aceh to the Papuan towns of Enarotoli, Nabire and Manokwari.

The bishop also touched upon the refugee problem: in Papua Nuova Guinea, the Catholic Church is assisting 6,000 refugees from West Papua, living in 17 camps.

"I am concerned that soon we will have another wave of refugees coming across the border for protection," he said. "These people are afraid to go back. They fear they will be jailed or worse. Our information suggests it is not safe for them to be returned." 

Already smarting from Canberra's decision to grant temporary protection visas to 42 out of 43 citizens of West Papua, who arrived in a boat on Cape York (a peninsula north of Australia) in January, Jakarta rejected Bishop Cote's claims. "It is not true that there are any religious militants backed by the TNI (Indonesian military) in Papua," said Dino Kusnadi, a spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra.