Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

16 December 1999 Edition

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Basque reps in Ireland

Pernando Barrena and Jone Goreizelaia, elected representatives of Herri Batasuna to the Navarran Parliament and the Basque Autonomous Parliament, respectively, visited Dublin last weekend to ``bring to the international community our point of view on recent developments of the political process in the Basque Country.

``Representatives of Herri Batasuna have already visited Brussels, where they addressed a group of MEPs and the media and we also travelled yesterday to London and shortly we will be travelling to Geneva and Rome.''

Herri Batasuna wanted to send ``a message of calm and responsibility'' and to avow that their commitment to the political process, ``which we are sure will lead us to a scenario of full democracy and lasting peace'' is as strong as it was 14 months ago when, in September 1998, representatives of the majority of Basque political and civil society adopted the Lizarra-Garazi Agreement as the framework document to achieve peace and freedom. ETA's ceasefire followed shortly afterwards. ``The conditions for dialogue were better than ever,'' says Barrena. ``These were the best conditions in decades''.

``We are convinced that this scenario of democracy and peace can only be built on the respect for the freely expresed opinion of the Basque people. It is just about democracy. Only when the Basque people are entitled to decide their own future will violence disappear from the country.''

Just a week ago, ETA decided to end its ceasefire because of the slow pace of the political process in the Basque Country. In its statement, ETA blamed conservatives nationalist Basque parties for slowing the peace process to serve their own electoral interests, and the Spanish and French states for their continuous repression of Basque pro-independence supporters.

Pernando Barrena feels that the Spanish government has decided to ignore the Basque people's endorsement of the Lizarra-Garazi document, an endorsement that could be measured through increasing electoral support for those parties who were signatories of the Agreement. ``During these 14 months, the governments arrested ETA volunteers who were involved in the negotiations with the Spanish government,'' said Barrena. ``They do not respect the right of Basque people to decide their own future and they still deny the political nature of the conflict in the Basque Country. No proposal has been produced by any of the governments.'' Barrena explained that Herri Batasuna does not expect any change in the Spanish government's attitude as ``the Spanish general elections take place next March''.

``The need for a change in attitude by the Spanish government is in our opinion, very clear. So we are lobbying the international community and we are asking the Irish authorities in particular to offer information and advice to the Spanish authorities from their own experience during the Irish peace process. What works in Ireland can also work in the Basque country. We are convinced that a lasting peace needs full democracy and respect for the wishes of the majority of Basque people.

Barrena and Goreizelaia also referred to Herri Batasuna's close relationship with Sinn Féin. ``We feel very close to the political process taking place in Ireland, first of all, out of solidarity with Sinn Féin and also for our own interest in a process the main objectives of which are a lasting peace and full democracy. We are very interested in the work that Sinn Féin is doing here in Ireland towards achieving those goals.''

Also on Saturday 11 December, at a news conference in Irunea, the Basque Country, Herri Batasuna presented its proposals for a united and democratic Basque Country, including an election in which everyone living in the Basque territories North and South of the Pyrenees would be voting to elect a national parliament for the Basque Country.

Independence for West Papua


East Timor finally achieved independence from Indonesia in 1999. Not so well known is the situation of the West Papuan people, who have been struggling for independence under Indonesian rule since 1963.

West Papua, the western half of New Guinea island, now termed `Irian Jaya province' under Indonesian control, is just under five times the size of the island of Ireland and is immense in its tribal and ecological diversity. It has some 240 different tribal peoples, each with its own language and culture. About a million indigenous Papuans speak some 15% of the world's known languages. West Papua, together with the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, independent Papua New Guinea, are the lungs of the Asia-Pacific region, with the last great surviving virgin rainforest after the Amazon.

In 1883, New Guinea was carved up between the Dutch, the Germans and the British. Eastern New Guinea, which was under the British and the Germans, gained independence in 1975 as Papua New Guinea. The Dutch began advocating independence for West New Guinea in the `50s, but Indonesia wanted the territory for itself. The Dutch-Indonesia dispute was an annual issue for discussion at the UN General Assembly from 1954-60. In 1952, the Netherlands recognised Papuan self-determination as a right in accordance with Article 73 of the Charter of the United Nations, and began preparing the nation for independence. The territory was given a governor and an administration of its own, directly under the Hague, and, had not Indonesia interfered, it would have been `given' self-determination by 1970.

Unable to secure the territory for Indonesian control peacefully, Indonesian President Sukarno chose armed conflict to force the issue. On 15 January 1962, a minor naval battle took place between the Netherlands and Indonesia. Pressure from the United States and pressure from interest groups within the Netherlands who wanted to keep friendly with their former colony mounted. The Dutch went into secret negotiations with Indonesia, sponsored by the United States.

These negotiations, which excluded the Papuans, led to the 1962 `New York Agreement' between the Netherlands and Indonesia, which led to the transfer of West Papua to Indonesia on 1 May 1963.

Also under the terms of the Agreement, a so-called `referendum' was engineered in 1969, which was ironically or cynically termed by the Indonesian administration, an `Act of Free Choice'.

Only 1,025 hand-picked people out of a population of some 800,000 were allowed to vote. Those who voted did so in a climate of fear and intimidation and with only a derisory UN presence.

One reporter, Brian May, who witnessed it, called it ``The United Nations fiasco''. Another, the journalist Hugh Lunn, said: ``I witnessed that event ( the Act of Free Choice in 1969 ) and saw the hypocrisy of world politics and felt the numbing sadness of a people being taken over by another race.''

On 19 November 1969, the report of the Act of so-called Free Choice was ``noted'', but not considered, by the UN General Assembly.

Tens of thousands of people have died in West Papua. The most recent human rights abuses were in early December 1999 when thousands of people came out to raise the Papuan national flag. The Indonesian military opened fire with live rounds.

Indonesian President Wahid is due to visit West Papua (Irian Jaya) on 31 December.


Negotiations between Israel and Syria, aimed to finish the 50 year-old conflict between these states are set to restart in Washington. It will be the first official meeting between the two states since February 1996. The Damascus administration's main objective is to secure a promise from the Israeli government in relation to demilitarisation and sovereignty of the Golan Heights, which were occupied by Israel in 1967.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1