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Pacific News Minute: Indonesia's President Says He's Willing To Meet With W. Papuan Leaders

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AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim
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Indonesia President Joko Widodo gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019.

Still under pressure from student demonstrators protesting Indonesia’s proposed new criminal code, President Joko Widodo dropped a political bombshell yesterday when he told reporters he would be willing to meet with pro-independence leaders in West Papua.

The startling announcement has been met with caution and skepticism. Just a few days ago, the president’s security minister, Wiranto, ruled out any talks with pro-independence groups. Then reporters asked Jokowi, as the president is universally known, whether he was ready to meet activists who have been demanding an independence referendum. “Yes, there is no problem,” he said, adding, “with anyone, I will meet if they really want to meet.”

RNZ Pacific reports that in meetings with the president’s chief of staff and his Interior minister, legislative leaders in the two provinces that make up West Papua named two groups that should be included in any talks: The United Liberation Movement for West Papua and the West Papua National Committee. Another news report last week quoted the chief of staff Moeldoko suggesting a meeting with Benny Wenda, the head of the ULM.

Then, even after Jokowi’s remarks on talks, Reuters quoted Security Minister Wiranto accusing Wenda of “trying to ignite massive riots.” Up until now, Indonesian government officials have blamed weeks of sometimes violent protests on the pro-independence groups; Jokowi himself said it was not an ethnic conflict, but an attack by an armed criminal group.

Leaders of the ULM and the National Committee said they were open to talks, but only after Indonesia withdraws all troops and police.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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