25 Jan 2007

American Samoa's Congressman to head Asia/Pacific committee

11:30 am on 25 January 2007

The new chairman of a congressional panel on Asia has promised to turn a spotlight on the struggle for independence in the Indonesian province of Papua.

The International Herald Tribune says Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, American Samoa's 8-year veteran of Congress, who has assumed leadership of the House of Representatives' subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, plans to hold public hearings on Indonesia's actions in Papua.

Faleomavaega has often used his position on the Asia panel to press the United States to review its policy toward the province, where rights groups maintain that about 100,000 people have died as a result of military action or abuses by Indonesian troops.

The paper quotes Faleomavaega as saying he recognized the sensitivity of the issue for Indonesia, which would see Papuan independence as a potential spark for the country's breakup.

Still, he signaled a strong willingness to continue bringing congressional attention to Papua.

He says he wants to lead a delegation of U.S. lawmakers to Indonesia this year to discuss the matter with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The paper says that could be awkward for the Bush administration,which opposes Papuan independence and is deeply

sensitive to Indonesia's concerns about sovereignty.