By AUDREY YOUNG
New Zealand is offering to be a broker in the conflict between Indonesia and the independence movement in West Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya.
Foreign Minister Phil Goff made his offer at the inaugural Southwest Pacific Dialogue hosted by Indonesia.
The dialogue was to have been held in West Papua but because of security concerns was shifted toYogyakarta, an hour's flight from Jakarta.
Mr Goff said he had been asked to become involved by a representative from the freedom movement, Sydney-based John Ondawame.
"But you don't go in at the request of one party," he said after returning from the talks at the weekend.
Mr Goff cited New Zealand's record in helping Bougainville separatists to reach a settlement with Papua New Guinea.
"What we're basically putting on the table is New Zealand's readiness, if requested, to give assistance to help in the resolution of the situation in Papua.
"That is not to say we are trying to impose on them. The decision rests in Indonesia's court if and when it thinks it is appropriate."
He thought it was "an outside chance" that New Zealand would be called on. "Indonesia has always been wary about third-party involvement in what it regards as essentially a domestic affair."
The Southwest Dialogue was hosted by Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Hassan Wirayuda. Counterparts from four other countries were there as well: Australia's Alexander Downer, East Timor's Jose Ramos Horta, Papua New Guinea's Sir Rabbie Namaliu and Blas Ople from the Philippines.
The Jakarta Post reported that the meeting was scheduled to be held in Timika, West Papua, in August to demonstrate Indonesia's confidence in keeping Papua, but had to be moved because of security problems.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is scheduled to visit the province this year.
Mineral-rich West Papua borders Papua New Guinea.
Its indigenous people, mainly Melanesian and Christian, fear they will become a minority with the encouraged migration of tens of thousands of Muslim Asians from crowded islands in Indonesia, which has a population of 228 million.
West Papua remained a Dutch colony when Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949.
It was ceded to Indonesia in 1963 and confirmed by the United Nations under a 1969 vote known as the "Act of Free Choice".
Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid allowed Irian Jaya to revert to its former name.
The province has also been granted more autonomy and allowed to retain more revenue from its resources.
Mr Goff said West Papua was not making good progress on implementing the autonomy measures.
"It would be a lost opportunity if the proposals for autonomy were not picked up."
Australia was wary of becoming involved because it had already been accused "unfairly" of interfering.
"New Zealand is in a different position," he said.
"We don't have any pretensions of being a middle-level power.
"We don't have any vested interest in it at all."
Dr Hassan declined to comment on Mr Goff's offer but the ministers have agreed to meet regularly.
They also discussed terrorism, refugees, transnational crime, people-smuggling and economic development.
By AUDREY YOUNG