Moluccan exiles will settle for autonomy

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The new president of the Moluccan government-in-exile says an independent Moluccan state is no longer its absolute priority. In an interview with the Dutch daily Nederlands Dagblad, John Wattilete says he is prepared to place the future of the islands in the hands of the people and if they no longer wish to fight for independence from Indonesia then "he would accept the consequences".

However, he added that he was not advocating a referendum since Indonesia systematically suppresses supporters of independence. He called on the Indonesian and Dutch governments to work towards greater freedom of speech in the Moluccas.  Although independence is still the ultimate goal, he says he would be satisfied with a form of autonomy similar to that introduced in Aceh. "The most important thing is that Moluccans themselves are in charge."

The government of the self-styled Republik Maluku Selatan has been exiled in the Netherlands since 1966, following an attempt at independence in 1950 which was swiftly put down by the Indonesian army. Many exiled Moluccans expected the Netherlands, as the ex-colonial power in Indonesia, to help press their case for independence. During the 1970s, disillusioned by the lack of action from successive Dutch governments,  some exiles attempted to gain publicity for their cause with a number of violent actions including occupations and the hijacking of a train.

John Wattilete takes over the RMS presidency in the autumn. He is the first to come from the second generation of Moluccans in the Netherlands and is regarded as more pragmatic than previous leaders.