PM takes courageous stand

The National, Friday May 27th, 2016

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has reaffirmed his bold and courageous stand on the West Papua issue.

Last year, he became the first PNG Prime Minister to break the National Government’s silence on this sensitive issue since independence.

In his historic statement during the 2015 National Leaders’ Summit in Port Moresby, O’Neill said Papua New Guinea had become a respected regional leader but had not spoken about the human rights issues across its common border with Indonesia.

“I think, as a country, time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there. Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on the social media, and yet, we take no notice. We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded.”

And this week, O’Neill revealed during a radio talkback show that the Government had expressed concerns about human rights issues in West Papua and their desire for autonomy to the Indonesian authorities, including President Joko Widodo.

“We have just returned from the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting that Papua New Guinea chairs and we have written to the president (Widodo) expressing that we want to send a team to West Papua to engage directly with the people. The response we are getting from Indonesia is that they welcome such a dialogue and also they are positive about the desire for West Papua to have some more autonomy,”

O’Neill told listeners.

We commend the Prime Minister for his bold initiative to establish dialogue with Indonesia on this sensitive issue, which all his predecessors had ignored for fear of upsetting our giant neighbour.
Our citizens can be rest-assured that we now have a Prime Minister who will not shirk his moral obligation to our Melanesia brothers and sisters across the border.

O’Neill’s stance has been enthusiastically welcomed by local, regional and international supporters and sympathisers of West Papuan freedom and self-autonomy.

For the younger generation of Papua New Guineans who are not familiar with the “Papua Conflict”, it is an ongoing low-level conflict between the Indonesian government and portions of the indigenous population of West Papua.

Since the withdrawal of the Dutch colonial administration from the Netherlands New Guinea in 1962, the implementation of Indonesian governance in 1963 and the formal absorption of West Papua into Indonesia in 1969, the Free Papua Movement (OPM), a militant Papuan-independence organisation, has conducted a low-level guerrilla war against the Indonesian state, targeting the Indonesian military and police, as well as engaging in the kidnapping of both non-Papuan Indonesian settlers and foreigners.

West Papuans have conducted various protests and flag-raising ceremonies for independence or federation with Papua New Guinea, and accuse the Indonesian government of indiscriminate violence and of suppressing their freedom of expression. Many West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian military since 1969 and the Indonesian governance style has been compared to that of a police state, suppressing freedom of political association and political expression.

The Indonesian government restricts foreign access to West Papua due to sensitivities regarding its suppression of Papuan nationalism.

The Indonesian government is accused of human rights abuses, such as attacks on OPM-sympathetic civilians and jailing people who raise the West Papuan National Morning Star flag for treason.

Through the transmigration programme, which since 1969 includes migration to Papua, about half of the 2.4 million inhabitants of Indonesian Papua are born in Java, though intermarriage is increasing and the offspring of transmigrants have come to see themselves as “Papuan” over their parents’ ethnic group. As of 2010, 13,500 Papuan refugees live in exile in PNG and occasionally the fighting spills over the border.

As a result, the PNG Defence Force has set up patrols along the western border to prevent infiltration by the OPM. Additionally, the PNG Government has been expelling resident “border crossers” and making a pledge of no anti-Indonesian activity a condition for migrants’ stay in PNG. Since the late 1970s, the OPM have made retaliatory “threats against PNG business projects and politicians for the PNGDF’s operations against the OPM”.

The PNGDF has performed joint border patrols with Indonesia since the 1980s, although its operations against the OPM are parallel.

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