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PNG Leader’s Visit May Herald Better Relations

PNG Leader’s Visit May Herald Better Relations

Greater cooperation between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia may be on the horizon following a three-day visit by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and 100 of the country’s business leaders to Jakarta this week.

Several experts have called for Indonesia to strengthen relations with its eastern neighbor.

Bilateral talks during O’Neill’s visit, which ended on Wednesday, covered illegal trading, logging and border security, problems Indonesia has previously voiced concerns about.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met with O’Neill on Monday at the State Palace to discuss strengthening bilateral relations. Indonesian businesspeople also discussed investment and trade opportunities with their PNG counterparts during the visit.

During the leaders meeting, Yudhoyono and O’Neill signed 11 memorandums of understanding on issues including extradition of criminals and suspects, border security, energy cooperation, tourism and sports deals.

“PNG is ready to assist Indonesia in addressing the many challenges along the border areas,” O’Neill told a joint press conference after the meeting.

Yudhoyono stressed the importance of economic cooperation between the two countries.

“In total, trade increased 35 percent on average between 2008 and 2011. Although there was a slight decline in 2012, we believe we can increase trade cooperation further this year,” the president said.

Deals between the two countries will allow direct flights from Jakarta to Port Moresby, which officials from both governments said would begin in August.

Indonesia has been pushing for an extradition agreement in order to prevent the country’s fugitives, especially Papuan rebels and corruption convicts, from seeking refuge in PNG.

Several Free Papuan Movement (OPM) members are believed to have fled to PNG after allegedly fatally shooting police and civilians.

The recent escape of graft convict Djoko Tjandra raised concerns about extradition arrangements with PNG.

Djoko, the former owner of now-defunct Bank Bali, fled Indonesia for Port Moresby on a chartered flight in 2009, just a day before the Supreme Court upheld his conviction for embezzling Rp 546 billion ($56.7 million) in bailout funds meant for his bank during the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

He was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison and ordered to return the embezzled funds. Djoko has been listed as a wanted person by Interpol since 2009.

On Tuesday, PNG Defense Minister Febian Pok met with his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro to discuss increasing defense cooperation, especially in the military industry.

“If we can do it seriously, we can boost our defense industry,” Purnomo said.

He added that there were opportunities for PNG to buy weapons and other defense equipment produced in Indonesia.

Foreign-policy watchers say Indonesia can boost the PNG economy and use its ties as a leverage to clamp down on insurgent activities in Indonesian Papua.

Aleksius Jemadu, dean of the Pelita Harapan University School of Social and Political Sciences, said Indonesia should convince PNG that the archipelago can act as a gateway to stronger relations with other Asian nations. It could also consider sponsoring PNG to become a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a position also sought by East Timor.

“PNG sees Indonesia as a very important neighbor, not only because the two countries are geographically close, but also because the leading role of Indonesia in Asia, particularly in Asean, that could become a bridge for PNG to expand its economy,” he said.

Aleksius said that PNG’s interest in expanding its economic cooperation with Asia could lead to strong economic ties with Indonesia, which could then be used as leverage to push PNG and its leadership to cooperate on combating Papuan insurgent groups.

Bantarto Bandoro, a senior lecturer with the Indonesian Defense University, agreed that Indonesia should use its closer bond with PNG as leverage to demand the country cut direct and indirect support for OPM, a rebel group known to operate with a significant web of support among Pacific countries.

“Papua and the issue of sovereignty are the main reasons why Indonesia should forge better relations with PNG,” he said.

Aleksius and Bantarto both expressed optimism that future relations between Indonesia and PNG may improve despite a long history of mistrust stemming from Indonesia’s perceived annexation of the western half of Papua.

“The long story of love-hate relationship between PNG and Indonesia may not be erased in one-night, even if Prime Minister O’Neill’s official visit opened multiple sectors for cooperation,” Bantarto said. “But leaders from both countries can come up with better understanding to overcome the existing mistrust.”

ENDS

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