Papua: Changing Pacific Attitude To Independence
Papua: OPM Looks To Change Pacific Attitude To Independence
MELBOURNE: (RA Pacific Beat/Pacific Media Watch): Separatists from the Indonesian province of Papua are hoping Pacific island nations will make their cause an international issues. The Free Papua Movement, the OPM, has been fighting a low-level insurgency in the mainly Melanesian and Christian western half of New Guinea island since it was incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial act of free choice in the 1960s. Australia is now considering the establishment of joint naval patrols in the area where a boatload of Papua asylum-seekers recently crossed over and landed on Cape York Peninsula, while Indonesia is recalling its ambassador from Canberra.
Presenter/Interviewer: Bruce Hill
Speakers: Nick Chesterfield, spokesman, Free West Papua Campaign; John Ondowame, spokesman, OPM
HILL: Advocates of Papuan independence from Indonesia seem to have some popular support in the Pacific, especially in Melanesian countries.
But so far, only Vanuatu has officially recognised them, allowing the movement to set up an office in Port Vila.
However, John Ondowame, the international spokesman for the OPM, based in the Vanuatu capital, says there are signs that the official position of most Pacific nations, that Papua is an internal Indonesian matter, are starting to shift.
ONDOWAME: As long as the Pacific Island countries, particularly Melanesia and also big brothers like Australia and New Zealand, do not support the issue of West Papua, the issue of West Papua never goes far beyond our regional borders.
Recently, Melanesian countries at the [Melanesian] Spearhead Group meeting in Port Vila, decided to invite West Papuans to participate in Melanesian arts festival that will take place in October in Suva, Fiji. Also, the Pacific Island Forum, since 2000 up to now, has raised the issue of West Papua.
The position of the Pacific Island Forum, the Melanesian Spearhead group and the government of Australia and New Zealand has been changing in favour of the West Papuan cause.
The Australian government accepts giving protection visas to our friends who are in very dangerous positions, for the Free West Papuan refugees, has indicated clearly that Australians and the government is not just [turning] a blind eye on the situation in West Papua, but now clearly they have opened their eyes and looked at the situation, and who knows in the future these governments might [get] involved directly to liberate West Papua from Indonesian colonialism.
HILL: Nick Chesterfield, a spokesman for the Australia-based Free West Papua Campaign, says the Pacific region is naturally sympathetic to the Papuan cause, along with a substantial number of Australians.
But he warns that Indonesia's growing political influence in the region, and Australia's nervousness over its own relations with Jakarta, have combined to intimidate the region into keeping silent.
CHESTERFIELD: You know, we've got to remember that Indonesia has been trying to get into these Pacific Island countries for a long time. I mean, there's the outright bribery that it's been attempting through Pacific island forums, meetings quite regularly, its continued push for observer status at the Pacific Islands Forum.
Indonesia is already there, Indonesia is already behind the big logging corporations and the militaries behind the big logging corporations and the mining and the aid and everything that's going on in the region. You just look at the internal politics of what's happening in Vanuatu to illustrate that point.
HILL: Is it likely, do you think, that Australia might put pressure on Pacific Island countries not to pay attention to the West Papua issue?
CHESTERFIELD: Oh, totally, I mean they've been doing it ever since the Jakarta lobby was formed. Just once again, case in point, at the Pacific Islands Forum the way the Australian officials have been behaving to try and quash any grassroots movement of Pacific Island countries to bring up the issue of West Papua.
The Pacific looks at Australia as an older brother to lead the way and protect people and it's not doing that. The more that it fosters terrorist military on our doorstep the more it is going to cause trouble for Pacific Island countries.
HILL: Well, if Indonesia has such a strong presence in the Pacific and is trying to increase that and Australia obviously is a very important country at the Pacific Islands Forum and also has no interest in antagonising Indonesia, what's in it for smaller Pacific countries to pay attention to the West Papua issue?
CHESTERFIELD: Morality, they don't forget their ancestors, wantoks right across the Pacific are going to care about what's happening to their wantoks across this fictitious line on a map.
You're connected by stories, you're connected by song. I mean, this is the reason why Pacific island countries care about what's happening to their own family.
PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH