Papua now on Pacific radar

By Neles Tebay, published in The Jakarta Post on September 29th 2015

The conflict between the government and indigenous Papuans, particularly those Papuans involved with the Free Papua Movement (OPM), has long been considered an Indonesian domestic affair. The government has rejected the involvement of any foreign parties in the settlement of issues faced in Papua.

 

Respecting Indonesia's sovereignty, no foreign country has raised the Papua issue at regional or international forums. No country supports the OPM's struggle for separating Papua from Indonesia.

Nevertheless, as Indonesia celebrates 70 years of independence and 52 years since Papua's integration into the republic this year, there have been some new developments involving the Papua issue in the Pacific region.

The new developments began with the formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in December 2014. Three organizations under the umbrella of the OPM gathered in Port Villa.

With the help of Vanuatu, they established the ULMWP to coordinate activities and represent the resistance movement in collaboration with external parties. Since then the OPM has appeared as a more united force with a united voice.

Representing the various Papuan resistance groups, the ULMWP officially applied for full membership at the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), a sub-regional grouping in the Pacific, in February 2015. The MSG comprises Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia.

The application was supported by representatives from all countries in Melanesia. They have called the people of Papua their "Melanesian brothers and sisters of West Papua" and have declared the Papua issue a Melanesian issue.

Instead of granting the ULMWP full membership, the Melanesian leaders at the 20th MSG summit held in June 2015 in the Solomon Islands decided to offer the group observer status. It was the first political recognition of the OPM.

As an observer, the ULMWP began introducing the Papua issue to all the countries of the Pacific. Within two months, the issue was drawing wider attention — and the OPM was stronger support from Pacific countries.

Such was the support from around the Pacific region, in August 2015 it was decided that the Papua issue would be one of five main agenda items at the 46th summit of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in PNG in mid-September.

On Sept. 1 and 2, the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organizations gathered in Port Moresby for a civil society partnership forum. The organizations offered a collective public apology to Papuans for their past ignorance and neglect of their suffering.

They jointly called for Pacific leaders "to send a high-level PIF delegation, including civil society organizations [CSOs] and church leaders, on a fact-finding mission to West Papua" and urged for "the re-inscription of West Papua on the UN [Non-Self-Governing Territories] list as an important step toward an independent and free West Papua".

The leaders of 16 Pacific countries gathered in Port Moresby for the 46th PIF summit, from Sept. 7 to 11.

They communicated their collective position on Papua in the PIF's communiqué, explicitly expressing respect for and recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua, while raising their concern regarding human rights violations in the province.

The Pacific leaders requested that the Prime Minister of PNG consult with the Indonesian government on the establishment of a fact-finding mission to Papua.

The mission is meant to assess the human rights situation in Papua and West Papua provinces. Consequently, the Papua issue is now a Pacific issue. Its settlement will and should involve Indonesia, all Pacific countries and the Papuans.

Pacific CSOs and leaders of Pacific countries will now be following the situation closely, particularly possible human rights violations in the western half of New Guinea.

Pacific leaders may now raise the Papua issue at sub-regional, regional and even international forums, as 52 years on from West Papua's integration into Indonesia, and after the resulting deaths of thousands of Papuans, the case remains unsettled.

It is necessary for the government to prevent Papua from becoming an international issue. It cannot and will not be settled by deploying more troops to Papua and West Papua and establishing more military commands there.

For five decades now the security approach has failed. The government is strongly urged to explore peaceful means to address the situation.

Given these new developments, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo should appoint a high-level government official, such as a minister, to be in charge of the case. That person could be assisted by a small team of non-Papuans who are fully trusted and respected by Papuans, who could maintain close communications with all parties concerned.

Such communication is badly needed to prepare the way for peace talks between representatives of the government and the Papuan resistance groups represented by the ULMWP. This could help to settle the Papua issue through peaceful means.
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The writer is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and the Coordinator of the Papua Peace Network in Abepura. In 2013 he was awarded the Tji Hak-son Justice and Peace Award in Seoul.