Friday, March 31, 2006


The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has been depicted on the front page of an Indonesian newspaper as a dingo, mounting the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, from behind.

Downer described the portrayal of himself as a willing sex partner for Prime Minister Howard as "grotesque".

The newspaper headline reads 'The Adventures Of Two Dingo(s)', with PM Howard demanding "I want Papua, Alex! Try to make it happen!"

The cartoon's publication in one of Indonesia's biggest selling newspapers is in reaction to Australia's acceptance of 42 political refugees from West Papua, who sailed to the Australian mainland in a dugout boat last month, seeking asylum from what they claim is a raging genocide in the Indonesian territory being carried out by the Indonesian military.

Indonesia is particularly sensitive about West Papua. There is a growing independence movement in the country and Indonesia is trying to supress the uprising as quietly as they can.

Indonesian newspaper headlines and columnists have expressed outrage at Australia's decision to accept the Papua refugees as they claim this move gives creedence to the independence movement's claims of genocide, beatings and the suppression of freedoms by the military.

East Timor, which sits just above Australia's Northern Territory, mounted a campaign for independence from Indonesia in 1999 which resulted in elections stained by an appalling series of massacres by Indonesian militias, backed by the military, in late 1999 and early 2000.

The UN deployed troops to the region to restore calm, and Australia sent in hundreds of troops and heavy Army vehicles. Rumours of clashes between Australian soldiers and militias that resulted in the death of Indonesians have still not been confirmed by the Australian government, but the stories are widespread in Indonesia.

The Indonesian military were eventually forced to pull out and East Timor won its independence, and its freedom.

Now millions of Indonesians believe Australia is secretely encouraging Papuans to rise up and claim independence from Indonesia, just as the East Timorese did.

Alexander Downer and John Howard have both declared this is a mistaken belief, even a conspiracy,but they have also acknowledged the case of the Papuan refugees has caused great tension with Indonesia. Enough, so far, for Indonesia to have recalled its ambassador.

On the publications of the cartoon, and dozens of others through the Indonesian media, Alexander Downer said the newspaper had the right to publish whatever it wanted, as Indonesia was a free society, but he claimed that most Australians would find the images "grotesque".

"I would have thought those cartoons, in our society, fell way below the standards of public taste," said Downer. "I think a lot of Australians would regard those kind of publications as very offensive."

Not that offensive, Mr Downer. A poll on the Channel Nine website, ninemsn,com, saw more than half of the responders declaring otherwise.

Opposition leader Kim Beazley backed Howard's stance that there was no secret agenda underway to undermine Indonesia's grip on West Papua.

"We are not trying to dissolve the Indonesian federation," said Beazley.

The Australian media clearly had fun writing stories about the cartoon's publication, and the cartoon was reproduced on virtually every major media website in the country, as well as in dozens of newspapers.

The favourite word used by journalists to describe the position of the PM in the cartoon was "dominant."

The laughter rang from Indonesia to Australia and back again.

Better a cartoon to be used to make a political point than a bomb.

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