12 Mar 2003

PNG government delays repatriation of Papua border crossers

11:36 am on 12 March 2003

The Papua New Guinea government has delayed plans to send several hundred Papuan border crossers back to Indonesia today.

It annnounced last week that 96 families or 272 Papuans, who have been living in Vanimo since December 2000, would be repatriated.

The Catholic Church in Vanimo has been looking after the border crossers since they arrived, and last week Bishop Cesare Bonivento said he had spoken with the Papuans and not a single one wished to return.

He said they feared for their lives if forced back to Indonesia.

PNG Foreign Affairs official, Chris Merrill, says the Government has delayed the repatriation because of the opposition to it from the Church and the UNHCR.

He says a delegation of officials from Papua is expected in Vanimo shortly to re-assure the border crossers, the Catholic church and the UNHCR representative.

"IN: We are hoping that the Papuan delegation will provide the assurances and guarantees for the saftey of the border crossers if they are returned to papua province."

Chris Merrill