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Jakarta Post

Addressing the Papua issue in the Pacific

  • Neles Tebay

    The Jakarta Post

Abepura, Papua   /   Thu, March 5, 2015   /  07:11 am

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi visited three Pacific countries this week, namely Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands and Fiji, to strengthen relations between Indonesia and Pacific nations.

The visit is timely given the growing support for Papuan independence in the Pacific, more particularly in the countries united in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) namely PNG, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.

All the MSG members, except Vanuatu, previously recognized Papua as Indonesia'€™s territory and Papuan issues as Indonesia'€™s domestic concern.

Nevertheless, the situation has changed since June 2013 when the four Melanesian countries discussed the '€œWest Papua'€ issue at the MSG summit in Nouméa, New Caledonia.

Despite a rejection of the Papuans'€™ application for membership status at the MSG, the leaders of the MSG decided to fully support the Papuans'€™ right to self-determination.

Since then Papuan aspirations for independence have become an issue of the '€œMelanesian family'€. The people of PNG, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia have manifested, through many different ways, their solidarity with Papuans. They call the Papuans '€œour Melanesian brothers and sisters of West Papua'€.

The growing support and solidarity for Papua can easily be identified in each Melanesian country. In Vanuatu, the support comes from the opposition party, the national council of tribal chiefs, NGOs and churches, as well as from the government. Vanuatu is the only independent state in the South Pacific that has consistently supported what they term Papuan freedom.

In the Solomon Islands, supporters are united in a solidarity group called the Solomon Islands for West Papua (SIFWP). For them, as reported by the Solomon Star, Papua is occupied by Indonesia. Therefore, the end of occupation and Papua'€™s freedom are the aim of the SIFWP, as declared by its spokesperson, '€œOur aim is to see West Papua gain its freedom and as Melanesians we too must stand with them.'€ The West Papuans should not '€œbe slaves to another in their own lands'€ (The Island Sun, Feb. 28).

The Solomons'€™ former prime minister Gordon Darcy, who earlier visited Jakarta and established diplomatic ties with Indonesia, lost parliamentary elections last year.

The Solomons are now led by new Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, known for his solidarity and support for Papua'€™s independence from Indonesia.

A new political awakening, with regard to the '€œWest Papua'€ issue, is emerging in Fiji. Despite its government'€™s position supporting Indonesia'€™s territorial integrity, as recently reported by the Pacific Islands Report, various civil society groups, including the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) in Fiji have started to raise public awareness and undertake advocacy about the West Papua issue.

Tevita Banivanua, president of Methodist Church in Fiji, said, '€œFor too long, we have failed to speak out against Indonesia'€™s brutal oppression of the West Papuan People.'€ He announced that '€œthe people of West Papua only want what each one of us wants: to live a life free of fear; to live a life free of violence; to live a life free of exploitation; to live a life free of oppression; and to live a life free of political interference and intimidation.'€ He continued, '€œThey seek to be able to plant and reap what they sow.

'€œThey seek to be able to use the natural resources that God has entrusted them with [...] in a sustainable and productive way; to secure a future for their own children and their descendants.'€

The Fiji Solidarity Movement for West Papua'€™s Freedom was launched in the third week of February. The group supports what they describe as their brothers and sisters of Papua who seek membership in the MSG as members of the Melanesian community.

The director of the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy, Sirino Rakabi, said, '€œNow is the time for us, the citizens of Fiji, to call on our government to officially and publicly express our support and solidarity with their wish to be full members of this Melanesian body, a body that should and ought to represent all Melanesians,'€ (Fiji Times, Feb. 22). The Fijian government should, they claim, be '€œthe rock on which West Papua can find refuge'€.

PNG recognizes Papua as Indonesian territory. Maintaining a good diplomatic relationship with Indonesia, the PNG government has never raised the Papua issue in any national or regional forum, let alone at international forum.

However, the statement delivered by its Prime Minister Peter O'€™Neill at a summit of national leaders in Port Moresby on Feb. 5 surprised many parties both within and beyond PNG. In his speech, he acknowledged what he called '€œthe oppression'€ of the people of Papua. For many, it was the first time a PNG leader spoke out directly about the rights of Papuans in a public forum.

He said, '€œSometimes we forget our own families, our own brothers, especially those in West Papua.'€ He then highlighted the necessity of publicly raising the oppression endured by Papuans.

'€œI think'€, he said, '€œas a country, the time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there. Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on social media and yet we take no notice.'€ He added, '€œWe have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded.'€ He continued, '€œagain, Papua New Guinea, as a regional leader, we must lead these discussions with our friends in a mature and engaging manner.'€

Although not questioning Indonesian rule over Papua, his speech has strengthened support in the PNG community and among a number of its lawmakers for the Papuan independence movement.

It is clear that the Papua issue is no longer solely Indonesia'€™s domestic affair. Consequently, the government should be prepared to engage with Melanesian countries to settle the Papua conflict.

The foreign minister'€™s visit is important but not enough. The government should intensify its communication and cooperation in all aspects of life with the governments of South Pacific nations to tackle the Papua issue and to prevent the Papua conflict becoming a Pacific issue.

They should be convinced that the government is emphasizing the prosperity approach in Papua. Any manifestation of the security approach in Papua will only draw more attention from the people and governments of Melanesian countries.

The writer is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology and coordinator of the Papua Peace Network in Abepura

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