MSG backing Kanak independence ‘on the quiet’, says campaigner

Kanak pro-independence official Victor Tutugoro talking to journalists outside the FLNKS headquarters in Noumea on Sunday. Image: David Robie/PMC

By RNZ Pacific

A leading New Caledonian pro-independence politician, Victor Tutugoro, says governments of Melanesian countries have quietly supported the New Caledonian independence cause.

Tutugoro, second vice-president of New Caledonia’s Kanak-ruled Northern province and a Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) representative, said that this had been muted in part because of their bilateral links with France.

He said support for the Kanaks had been channelled through the MSG.

NEW CALEDONIA INDEPENDENCE VOTE: WHAT NEXT?

“The government of Fiji has been very discreet but generally speaking it’s been the organisation. With governments it’s a different story, they have to be more reserved towards France given their bilateral relation.”

Tutugoro, of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), said he was yet to speak to delegates of the the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), who visited Noumea for the weekend’s independence referendum.

The forum defied France in the 1980s by facilitating New Caledonia’s re-inscription on the UN decolonisation list.

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French police yesterday reopened the main road between Noumea and the south of New Caledonia after a blockade by protesters had caused tension throughout Monday, the day after the referendum.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Memo NZ: ‘Get on the right side of history’ over West Papua

Vanuatu says New Zealand should get on the right side of history and support West Papuan self-determination. However, reports James Halpin of Asia Pacific Journalism, Indonesian diplomacy with its Pacific allies Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea are defiantly undermining Pacific “solidarity” on the issue.

Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu has called on New Zealand to get on the right side of history when it comes to West Papua.

Reaffirming President Salwai’s remarks at the UN General Assembly late last month, Regenvanu told Asia Pacific Report that the “people of Vanuatu have never had the opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination, which is an unalienable right under international law, and they must be given that opportunity”.

Vanuatu was one of three countriesfour less than in 2016 – whose leaders gave UN strong messages in support of West Papuan self-determination.

READ MORE: Background to the 1969 Act of Free Choice

ASIA-PACIFIC JOURNALISM STUDIES – APJS NEWSFILE

Independence for Vanuatu was achieved from the co-colonisers France and the United Kingdom in 1980.

West Papua had been a colony of the Dutch New Guinea but was annexed by Indonesia after a paratrooper “invasion” in 1962 followed by a UN-supervised vote in 1969 described by critics as fraudulent.

-Partners-

Asked why Vanuatu has taken the lead in advocating for West Papua, Regenvanu says:

“We take this position because of our historical solidarity with the people of West Papua – we were once together and the struggles as colonies trying to become independent; we achieved ours and we will not forget our brothers-and-sisters-in-arms who have not got theirs.”

Forum failure
For President Salwai and Regenvanu, the recent Pacific Islands Forum was a failure at gaining Pacific support for West Papuan self-determination.

“We are disappointed at the position of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia to vocally oppose self-determination for West Papua. We are pleased that most other countries support self-determination, however.”

Regenvanu also criticises New Zealand for not following the advice that it gives to Pacific Island countries.

New Zealand should, “actively support with actions on this issue the ‘international rules-based order’ it is always promoting to PICs”.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group, which shares an ethnicity with the people of West Papua, has also failed at achieving solidarity over the issue.

“PNG and Fiji have strong ties to Indonesia and work actively to ensure the MSG does not address the issue.”

End colonialism call
President  Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas introduced the issue of West Papua to the UN General Assembly this year.


President  Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas addressing the UN General Assembly about West Papua. Video: UN

“For half a century now, the international community has been witnessing a gamut of torture, murder, exploitation, sexual violence, arbitrary detention inflicted on the nationals of West Papua perpetrated by Indonesia.”

“We also call on our counterparts throughout the world to support the legal right of West Papua to self-determination.”

For President Salwai, it is an issue of justice and equality for the people of West Papua,

“I would like to get back to the principles in the charter of the United Nations to reaffirm that we believe in the fundamental rights of human beings in dignity and worth of the human person and in equality of rights between men and women and nations large and small.”

President Salwai has been the flag bearer of West Papuan self-determination. His aim is for West Papua to be placed back onto the decolonisation list under the UN charter.

However, President Salwai was supported by two other Pacific leaders, Marshall Islands’ President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, and Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu.

Sopoaga said: “The United Nations must also engage with the people of West Papua to find lasting solutions to their struggles.”

Constructive engagement
President Heine staid that Pacific Island countries supported constructive engagement on the issue.

At the 2016 UN General Assembly, seven countries stated their supported for West Papuan self-determination. These were: Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Palau.

Decolonisation has become an important part of foreign relations in the Pacific with the New Caledonian independence vote on November 4.

After hundreds of years of European colonisation, the UN has provided a platform for and facilitated the self-determination of indigenous peoples across the world.

The Indonesian delegation denounced Vanuatu at the UN General Assembly just days ago. The Indonesia delegation used the entirety of their second right of reply in the general debate to deplore Vanuatu’s support for West Papuan self-determination.

“Although being disguised with flowery human rights concern, Vanuatu’s sole intention and action are directly challenging the internationally agreed principles of friendly relations between state, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” UN General Assembly Vice-President Muhammad Kalla said on behalf of his country.


UN General Assembly Vice-President Muhammad Kalla giving his speech. Video: UN

He said: “Like any other country, Indonesia will firmly defend its territorial integrity.”

The Indonesian representative, Aloysius Taborat, said: “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity is the cardinal rule in the relation among nations and in the United Nations”.

However, critics say Indonesia’s handling of West Papua’s vote in the 1969Act of Free Choice “was rigged” so that West Papua would vote to join Indonesia. Therefore, many see hypocrisy in Indonesia’s words, including in their reputation over press freedom.

Human rights abuses are a common occurrence in West Papua, according to human rights organisations. Simply raising the West Papuan flag can result in 15-years imprisonment.

James Halpin is a student journalist on the Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies course at AUT. He is filing articles in the Asia-Pacific Journalism Studies paper.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ralph Regenvanu: Pacific regionalism, climate finance and women in politics

Tess Newton Cain talks to Ralph Regenvanu

During a recent trip to Port Vila, Tess Newton Cain caught up with Ralph Regenvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade in the Vanuatu government.

Regenvanu describes himself as a Port Vila citizen. He has lived for most of his life in the capital of Vanuatu, other than for a period of time when he was studying in Australia (he holds an honours degree in anthropology and development studies from the Australian National University (ANU).

He spent more than a decade as director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, prior to a return to university in 2007, this time to study law at the University of the South Pacific. Then his political career took off:

Halfway through my degree, I stood for election, and I got in at the end of 2008 as an independent candidate. And myself and the others who were with me in the political journey set up the Graon mo Jastis Pati in 2010.

This is Minister Regenvanu’s third term in Parliament and he has held a number of portfolios since 2008. He took over as Minister for Foreign Affairs in December 2017.

So, what are Vanuatu’s foreign policy priorities and what would he like to see his ministry achieve during his tenure as its leader? Significantly, the minister points to internal matters as being more significant than external issues:

-Partners-

The biggest issues of this ministry are not so much external issues. The biggest issues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the internal coordination of the government so that we can strategically approach our international relations and diplomacy. So, at the moment, it is quite difficult to effectively strategise about how Vanuatu places itself in the world, especially the most important thing for us on the horizon is the LDC graduation in 2020.

More opportunities
The minister explained that he thinks there are more opportunities for Vanuatu to work strategically bilaterally, regionally and globally. This is what will be required as the impacts of Least Developed Country (LDC) graduation take effect after 2020.

Therefore, he is focused on getting the internal infrastructure right between his ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office (which is responsible for aid coordination), the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (which has carriage of the EDF11 program).

Politics in Vanuatu and voter behaviour tends to focus on the hyper-local issues so how can the work of the Foreign Minister and his Ministry be translated into messages that resonate with the urban voters of Port Vila, which is where Minister Regenvanu’s constituency sits?

…the best way to really make people appreciate our foreign relations is, of course, all the aid projects, right? And being able to show that they are well chosen, have high impact on the lives of people, that they’re conducted in a manner which is transparent, and they’re done efficiently. And that brings me back to what I originally said about being very strategic in how we organise ourselves internally to get projects, attract the right kind of projects and the right kind of conditions that we want.

The second aspect of foreign affairs that the minister believes resonates with voters is one that is essentially part of the DNA of Vanuatu:

There is, of course, the very popular issue in Vanuatu of West Papua, and that’s also something which governments need to take heed of, in terms of the very, very popular support for the independence of West Papua in Vanuatu, which is translated into one of our foreign affairs objectives.

A third, emerging, narrative is around the growing awareness of the impacts of climate change in Vanuatu. On that note, we discussed recent statements the minister had made regarding climate finance and, in particular, the issue of compensation for loss and damage.

Frustration over key issues
He expressed a certain amount of frustration with the actions (or lack thereof) of developed countries in relation to some key issues:

You’ve got to play the game that you yourself agreed to. So, when it comes to the Green Climate Fund, for example,… it’s a very poor effort by the developed countries who’ve said that they would contribute. Let alone, talking about loss and damage, which has absolutely no contributions, even though that was also an agreement made by all the countries…

I reminded the minister he had previously expressed to me a degree of scepticism about the value of regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF). What are his current views on this?

I think the Pacific Islands Forum is definitely useful, especially in terms of articulating common positions and being a conduit for development finance, accessing larger facilities and so on… I can’t say the same about the MSG [Melanesian Spearhead Group]. I think the MSG is… it’s disappointing, to say the least and there’s a question of its relevance.

The minister accepts that Vanuatu has a particular interest in the MSG, but says that ongoing support depends on management decisions made in the next little while. While the decision on the membership application of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) is top of that list, there are other concerns around management of the organisation as well. As for the PIDF?

We’re currently not a member. And we’re just — I suppose we’re just watching it to see — we’re really more invested in the Forum at this stage.

Last, but not least, we turned to the issue of increased participation of women in political decision-making. This is an issue on which Minister Regenvanu has long been very vocal. Further to his contribution to getting temporary special measures included in municipal elections in Port Vila and Luganville, what is next in this space?

Gender political space
…the next step is going for political party legislation, which is what we’re working on now, to get a new bill through Parliament, which provides for the regulation of political parties. At the moment, we have nothing like that in Vanuatu. So, just a very simple law that says you have to register a political party according to certain criteria… And then in that legislation, I think, is room to create measures… by which women can get more representation.

Minister Regenvanu continues to be a prominent and influential member of the Vanuatu Parliament and government. We will be watching his political progress with interest.

Dr Tess Newton Cain is the principal of TNC Pacific Consulting and is a visiting fellow at the Development Policy Centre in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. She is a citizen of Vanuatu where she lived for almost 20 years and is now based in Brisbane.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vanuatu names founding PM’s daughter Laura as Papua envoy

A Port Vila solidarity rally in support of West Papuan desire for self-determination. Image: The Vanuatu Independent

By the Vanuatu Independent

The Vanuatu government has appointed Laura Lini, daughter of founding prime minister Father Walter Lini, as special envoy for West Papua.

United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) spokesperson Jacob Rumbiak welcomed the move, saying “we are pleased and impressed”.

He thanked Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu for the appointment “at this pivotal moment in our struggle”.

The appointment comes at a critical time when the Melanesian Spearhead Group and Pacific governments are divided over the West Papuan self-determination and independence issues. Laura Lini previously worked in the MSG secretariat in Port Vila.

“Melanesian sovereignty runs deep in the veins of all ni-Vanuatu, and especially in Laura’s family,” said Rumbiak.

“In the 1970s, both West Papua and Vanuatu were struggling for their independence.

-Partners-

“Vanuatu got there first and it was Laura’s father, as Prime Minister, who pledged not to abandon West Papua or the Kanaks of New Caledonia.

‘Promised solidarity’
“He acknowledged our kinship and he promised solidarity with our struggle. Now, with this appointment of his daughter to our cause, we are reaping the harvest of his sagacity.

Rumbiak accused Indonesia of causing “much suffering in Vanuatu” by trying to undermine this loyalty.

“We know that the [Indonesian] government has used millions of dollars, money so badly needed by its own impoverished citizens, to disrupt your political institutions, to tear families apart, to wreck the lives of good and capable people,” he said.

“But we know that your ancestors are from our homeland and that your chiefs would never abandon us; and that our faith and your faith in God’s preference for justice, peace, and love will, ultimately, prevail.

“There is now just one more river to cross before West Papua rejoins the international community of nations, and that is to be listed on the UN decolonisation agenda.

“Laura’s life will be busy and stressful, maybe, sometimes, overwhelming. But with her passion and dedication lending strength to the determination of all West Papuans to be free, we will succeed in getting the job done.

“Then we will return her to her family and her country with the gratitude of a proud and independent nation,” Rumbiak added.

The Vanuatu Independent is a weekly newspaper with an online edition.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ben Bohane: China? No, let’s face the elephant in the Pacific room

BRIEFING: By Ben Bohane in Port Vila

China … China … China …

All the talk is of increasing Chinese influence in our region. But this is to wilfully see past the elephant in the room.

Contrary to most commentary, the biggest destabilising player in Melanesia over the past five years is not China but Indonesia, which through its “look east” policy has deliberately paralysed the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) while financing local MPs and political parties across the Pacific to try and stop snowballing regional support for West Papuan independence.

Indonesia already has Peter O’Neil onside in PNG, and Voreqe Bainimarama in Fiji, and is busy trying to neutralise Vanuatu, the Solomons and FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) leaders in New Caledonia, who are resisting Indonesian influence.

The reason Vanuatu and other Melanesian nations may be turning to China is because they are more worried about Indonesia, which has directly threatened Vanuatu over its strong diplomatic support for the West Papuans.

Vanuatu might be pulling some “muscle” into its corner, feeling it can’t rely on Australia because Canberra continues in its supine support of Indonesia whatever they do – even as Jakarta directly undermines Australian and Pacific island interests.

-Partners-

The accumulative “strategic failure” being talked of by Labour’s Richard Marles and others, is not because Australia has failed to check Chinese influence in Melanesia, but a result of Australia’s failure to check Indonesian interference in these nations that were supposed to be “our patch”.

For decades, islanders thought their “big brothers” Australia and America would defend Pacific peoples as they did in WWII. Instead, it appears Australia has outsourced its security of Melanesia to Indonesia, giving them free reign.

‘Melanesian nation’
Despite being a Melanesian nation itself through its own Torres Strait and South Sea Islander communities, strangely Australia has not sought to join the main political grouping of its own neighbourhood, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), which has now been hijacked by Indonesia with help from Fiji in particular; more blow-back from Canberra’s misguided attempts to isolate Fiji after the coup.

It is not lost on the region that while the Turnball government is warning about Chinese influence, senior members of his own party have been taking Chinese coin, from former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer spruiking for Huwei to recent Trade Minister Andrew Robb now working for the same Chinese company that controversially bought Darwin’s port.

Still, as examples like Sri Lanka demonstrate, Australia is right to flag concerns about strategic vulnerability that comes with excessive debt to China.

From a Melanesian perspective, the two biggest security issues they face are climate change and Indonesia’s increasing political interference across the Melanesian archipelago, rooted in its desire to hold onto West Papua.

Despite the mantra from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that Australia remains the “strategic partner of choice” for Vanuatu and the region, the fact is that Canberra is not listening to Melanesia’s own security concerns, but telling them what they should be concerned about, ie China.

This is not going down well and Melanesian nations are forging their own security arrangements with or without Australia, who they see as compromised when it comes to climate change and Indonesia.

In the past few months we have witnessed something of a “pincer movement”. In late December, RAAF jets were suddenly scrambled from Tindal air base near Darwin after a number of nuclear-capable Russian Tu 95 “Bear” bombers flew from Biak in West Papua, flying between Papua and Australia’s north for intelligence gathering purposes.

Russian bombers
It’s the first time Russian bombers have operated like this in the South Pacific and suggests Jakarta wanted to warn Australia and the US forces parked in Darwin that it too could bring some “muscle” into the neighbourhood. That message was likely aimed at China as much as Australia and the US.

Then last week, at the other end of Melanesia we have revelations about a potential Chinese military base in Vanuatu. The first thing to say is that it’s highly unlikely China would have asked for a military base – they are far too subtle to do that.

More likely is that they may be angling for something dressed up as a civilian project but with military applications, like the “space station” speculation floated in the Chinese press last week.

They have already built a lot of dual-use infrastructure in Vanuatu such as the big Santo wharf, so step by step, like their “salami-slicing” strategy in the South China Sea, they will move incrementally without wanting to frighten the horses.

Both of these pincer moves have their origin in West Papua’s situation. In some ways it reflects Paul Dibb’s reworking of Australian defence policy in the late 1980s to get beyond its Euro-centricity. Dibb offered a map with concentric circles emanating out from Darwin. The first circles cover East Timor and West Papua.

There are strategic consequences to Australia’s 50-year policy of not just turning a blind eye to Indonesia’s “slow-motion genocide” in West Papua, but active involvement through its Densus 88 anti-terror unit, which many Papuans accuse of not just targetting Islamic militants, but Papuan nationalists too.

At a time when Canberra is battling jihadis in the Middle East and the Philippines, it appears unconcerned by jihadi activity and Indonesian military collusion right on its doorstep, or a possible Prabowo government elected next year, backed by Islamist groups.

Bloody proxy militias
Those of us who witnessed Indonesia’s bloody use of proxy militias in East Timor have watched the same apparatus move to West Papua, with the same man – General Wiranto – still in charge.

It wasn’t always like this.

There was a time when the Menzies government in Australia supported Dutch plans for West Papuan independence throughout the 1950s and early 1960s until the US twisted arms to accept Indonesian control because of Cold War politics.

There was a time when the Australian Defence Force (ADF) worked with the PNGDF to actively secure its 800km border with Indonesia. Today the border is wide open and sources within PNGDF intelligence continue to complain that the Indonesian military routinely violate PNG sovereignty with their patrols, up to a dozen times per year, sometimes even moving the border marking pegs.

How can Australia be perceived as PNG’s security guarantor when it doesn’t even help them secure their primary border, especially with the growing threat of jihadi infiltration?

Why has the AFP been given priority over the ADF in terms of security across Melanesia? With no more engineering battalions or ADF army advisors present in camp, China has walked right in. The last ADF army adviser to Vanuatu, Major Paul Prickett, left 10 years ago and wasn’t replaced.

Many years ago I spent some time with Dick Hagen, a legendary coffee plantation manager in the Highlands of PNG, who has been there since the 1950s. He told me how in the 1960s and 70s, he and many Australians living in PNG were given basic military training so they could be a first response “militia” should the Indonesians come over the border and invade PNG.

For decades the PNG-Indonesia border was regarded as Australia’s real frontline. It was another potential “Kokoda” which didn’t happen, but Indonesia has found other ways to extend its reach.

Mohammed Hatta, one of the founding fathers of Indonesia, warned his nation against taking West Papua, saying Indonesia might not stop until it got to Fiji. That is now coming to pass. But ironically, it is China that will likely contain Indonesia’s expansion in the region, not Australia.

Some sort of deal?
I have the sense that some sort of deal was struck between Canberra and Jakarta back in the 1970s; that Australia would turn a blind eye to everything west of the border while Indonesia would not interfere in PNG and anything east of the border.

Australia has naively kept its part of the deal while Indonesia clearly has not. As a result, in the social media age when all the Pacific is now aware of climate change and what Indonesia continues to do in West Papua and beyond with tacit Australian support, Australia and the US are losing the moral – and actual – leadership of the region.

China is the result.

But it is worth remembering that Australia does much to support Melanesia in other important areas, has been a generous neighbour and will always be there for the islands in tough times. To the keyboard warriors on social media always blaming Australia for what has happened in West Papua, they would do well to understand the history; that it was US and UN decisions that sealed West Papua’s fate.

Australia and Holland initially supported their independence. Why would Australia again risk war with Indonesia over West Papua when Melanesians themselves have not united to bring the West Papuans fully into their family?

It was the MSG which let the wolf into their house, not Australia. As someone who was there in the first weeks of East Timor’s bloody liberation, amidst the burning buildings and bodies, it was an Australian-led coalition which secured East Timor. I remember wondering where are the Melanesian forces to assist and show solidarity? No PNGDF, no VMF or Fijian forces during the critical phase.

Australia must now find a strategic balance among its “frenemies” Indonesia and China. That begins with deeper engagement with the islands, leadership on climate change and working with Melanesian leaders to address their security concerns as much as Australia’s.

Only by listening and closer co-operation with Melanesian leaders can Australia assist with a robust defence of the Melanesian archipelago from Timor to Fiji and be seen as Melanesia’s “security partner of choice”.

Ben Bohane is a photojournalist and television producer based in Vanuatu who has specialised in reporting war and religion for nearly 30 years across Asia and the Pacific. He has been a frequent contributor to the Pacific Media Centre over the years.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

West Papua one step closer to MSG membership, says Wenda

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: West Papua one step closer to MSG membership, says Wenda

Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says the Melanesian Spearhead Group has made solid progress under the chairmanship of Solomon Islands. Video: EMTV News

By Meriba Tulo in Port Moresby

West Papua’s application to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group has gained traction, with MSG leaders referring the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) request to the MSG Secretariat for deliberation.

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister and new MSG chair, Peter O’Neill, made this known at the conclusion of the Leaders’ Summit.

READ MORE: MSG to process West Papua membership bid

According to O’Neill, the leaders of Melanesia have approved new criteria guidelines for observers, associate members and full members to the sub-regional grouping.

Currently, the ULMWP has an observer status to the MSG, with Indonesia already an associate member to this sub-regional grouping.

However, with this new move, West Papua, or the ULMWP at least could be one step closer to becoming a full member of MSG.

ULMWP leader Benny Wenda was present at the closing of the MSG Leaders’ Summit and was pleased with the outcome.

FLNKS backing
When addressing Melanesian leaders, Wenda called on the MSG to support West Papua in the same way that the MSG had shown support for the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) in New Caledonia in their push for independence.

Indonesia, however, called on the MSG to respect its sovereignty, calling the West Papuan issue an “internal matter”. These comments did not go down well with Wenda, when speaking to EMTV News:

“West Papua Is a Melanesian issue, which must be dealt with by Melanesians – Indonesia is not Melanesia.”

Meriba Tulo is a senior reporter and presenter and currently anchors Resource PNG as well as EMTV’s daily National News. Asia Pacific Report republishes EMTV News stories by arrangement.

United ULMWP executive confident of O’Neill’s West Papua support

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: United ULMWP executive confident of O’Neill’s West Papua support

New ULMWP executive endorsed in Port Vila … pleas for more European Union and ACP bloc support. Image: Vanuatu Daily Post

By Len Garae in Port Vila

The executive of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) has complied with Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s request to unite and is confident he will vote to support West Papua’s application to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

O’Neill is chairman of the MSG in Port Moresby which is meeting next week.

ULMWP spokesman Jacob Rumbiak said its week-long meeting in Port Vila had resulted in the spirit for West Papua to be more determined, organised and unified than ever before to end the alleged genocide by Indonesia of their people in West Papua.

READ MORE: Asian rights body calls for more action over Papua health crisis

In its meeting, ULMWP has made changes in its leadership, structure, bylaws as well as membership.

Rumbiak said the executive produced clear job descriptions, agenda, action plan, tactics and and strategy.

-Partners-

“The agenda was submitted by the executive committee, endorsed by the legislative committee and approved by its judicial committee,” Rumbiak said.

While the ULMWP executive is attending the MSG meeting in Port Moresby next week, Rumbiak said Papuans were still dying at the hands of the colonial power Indonesia.

Poisoning incident
For example, last week yesterday a young leader of the National Parliament of West Papua, Wendi Wenda, 20, died in a suspected poisoning incident, Rumbiak said, translating from an international report.

Speaking for the Vanuatu Free West Papua Association executive committee and Vanuatu Christian Council, Job Dalesa called on all churches in Vanuatu to pray for West Papua.

“If West Papua is a global issue, then it also requires active global engagement as well,” Dalesa said.

“Australia also has to rethink its foreign policy regarding its bilateral defence cooperation with Indonesia when we speak of global engagement because, indirectly, Australia seems to be contributing towards reports of longstanding atrocities in West Papua.”

Dalesa also challenged PNG and Fiji to recognise the positions they had taken regarding West Papua.

In PNG, Dalesa said he believed the PNG Council of Churches would now adopt a more pro-active role to support West Papua.

At the European Union (EU) and the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc in Brussels, Dalesa called on the government to keep the momentum going by appointing an “aggressive voice” in the absence of the former Ambassador to the EU, Roy Micky Joy, to “keep knocking and voicing West Papua’s plight” globally through the EU and ACP.

He reminded the government that the people of Vanuatu could do as much as they wanted at home and in the region, but that without concrete support from EU and ACP in Brussels, the West Papua issue would not advance internationally as fast and as effectively.

Len Garae is a senior journalist of the Vanuatu Daily Post. Daily Post articles are republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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Dan McGarry: Indonesia is slowly, slowly losing Melanesia

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Dan McGarry: Indonesia is slowly, slowly losing Melanesia

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

ANALYSIS: By Dan McGarry in Port Vila

Last month, New Zealand-based analyst Jose Sousa-Santos commented on Twitter that “Indonesia’s attempt at buying support from the Pacific region seems to have little to no impact on Melanesia’s stance on [West] Papua.”

That’s one of those pesky observations that’s neither entirely right nor entirely wrong. The truth is: Indonesia is winning almost every battle… and still losing the fight.

PNG’s Gary Juffa … a “progressive up-and-comer” and outspoken on West Papua. Image: Gary Juffa Instagram

Conventional wisdom used to be that Indonesia had built an impregnable firewall against Melanesian action in support of West Papuan independence.

Its commercial and strategic relationship with Papua New Guinea is such that PNG’s foreign affairs establishment will frankly admit that their support for Indonesia’s territorial claims is axiomatic. Call it realpolitik or call it timidity, but they feel that the West Papuan independence doesn’t even bear contemplating.

Widespread grassroots support and its popularity among progressive up-and-comers such as Gary Juffa don’t seem to matter. As long as Jakarta holds the key to economic and military tranquillity, Port Moresby’s elites are content to toe the Indonesian line.

The situation in Suva is similar. FijiFirst is naturally inclined is toward a more authoritarian approach to governance. And it seems that the military’s dominance of Fiji’s political landscape dovetails nicely with Indonesia’s power dynamic.

Many argue that Fiji’s relationship is largely mercenary. It wouldn’t flourish, they say, if the path to entente weren’t strewn with cash and development assistance. That’s probably true, but we can’t ignore the sincere cordiality between Fiji’s leadership and their Indonesian counterparts.

Same seeds
The same seeds have been planted in Port Vila, but they haven’t take root.

Until recently, Indonesia’s ability to derail consensus in the Melanesian Spearhead Group has ensured that West Papuan independence leaders lacked even a toehold on the international stage. In the absence of international recognition and legitimacy, the Indonesian government was able to impose draconian restrictions on activists both domestically and internationally.

Perhaps the most notorious example was their alleged campaign to silence independence leader Benny Wenda, who fled Indonesia after facing what he claims were politically motivated charges designed to silence him. He was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom, but a subsequent red notice—usually reserved for terrorists and international criminals—made travel impossible.

In mid-2012, following an appeal by human rights organisation Fair Trials, Interpol admitted that Indonesia’s red notice against Wenda was “predominantly political in nature”, and removed it.

Since then, however, activists have accused Indonesia of abusing anti-terrorism mechanisms to curtail Wenda’s travels. A trip to the United States was cancelled at the last moment because American authorities refused to let him board his flight. It was alleged that an Indonesian complaint was the source of this refusal.

Independence supporters claim that Indonesian truculence has also led to Mr Wenda being barred from addressing the New Zealand parliament. His appearance at the Sydney opera house with human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson received a standing ovation from the 2500 audience members… and an irate protest from Indonesian officials.

Not all of Indonesia’s efforts are overt. Numerous commentators made note of the fact that Vanuatu’s then-foreign minister Sato Kilman visited Jakarta immediately before his 2015 ouster of Prime Minister Joe Natuman.

Lifelong supporter
Natuman, a lifelong supporter of West Papuan independence, was a stalwart backer of membership in the MSG for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, or ULMWP. He was unseated barely weeks before the Honiara meeting that was to consider the question.

Kilman, along with Indonesian officials, vehemently deny any behind-the-scenes collusion on West Papua.

But even with Vanuatu wavering, something happened at the June 2015 Honiara meeting that surprised everyone. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare stage-managed a diplomatic coup, a master class in Melanesian mediation.

In June 2015, I wrote that the “Solomonic decision by the Melanesian Spearhead Group to cut the baby in half and boost the membership status of both the ULMWP and Indonesia is an example of the Melanesian political mind at work. Valuing collective peace over individual justice, group prosperity over individual advancement, and allowing unabashed self-interest to leaven the sincerity of the entire process, our leaders have placed their stamp on what just might be an indelible historical moment.”

Since then, the sub-regional dynamic has undergone a transformation. Kilman’s administration suffered a collapse of unprecedented proportions following corruption charges against more than half of his government.

The resulting public furore seems—for the moment at least— to have catalysed a backlash against venality and personal interest.

If the rumours are true, and Indonesia did have a hand in Kilman’s palace coup, the tactic hasn’t worked since. A pair of no confidence motions—not very coincidentally on the eve of yet another MSG leaders’ summit—failed even to reach the debate stage.

Kanaky support never wavered
Kanaky’s support for West Papuan independence has never wavered, but given their semi-governmental status, and their staunch socialist platform, Jakarta would be hard pressed to find a lever it could usefully pull.

For his part, Sogavare has survived more than one attempt to topple him. His own party leaders explicitly referenced his leadership on the West Papuan question when they tried to oust him by withdrawing their support.

In a masterful—and probably unlawful—manoeuvre, Sogavare retained his hold on power by getting the other coalition members to endorse him as their leader. His deft handling of the onslaught has raised him in the estimation of many observers of Melanesian politics.

Some claim that his dodging and weaving has placed him in the first rank of Melanesia’s political pantheon.

In Vanuatu as well, once bitten is twice shy. Prime Minister Charlot Salwai raised eyebrows when he not only met with the ULMWP leadership, but accepted the salute of a contingent of freedom fighters in full military regalia.

The meeting took place at the same moment as MSG foreign ministers met to consider rule changes that, if enacted, will almost inevitably result in full membership for the ULMWP.

The MSG has traditionally operated on consensus. If these rule changes pass muster, this will no longer be the case. It is a near certainty that Indonesia will do its utmost to avert this.

Sogavare’s inspired approach
Sogavare has demonstrated an inspired approach to the situation: If the MSG won’t stand for decolonisation in the Pacific, he asks, what is it good for? This rhetoric has become a chorus, with senior politicians in Vanuatu and Kanaky joining in.

Sogavare is, in short, embarked on his own march to Selma. And he is willing to allow the MSG to suffer the slings and arrows of Indonesian opprobrium. He is, in short, willing to allow the MSG to die for their sins.

Whether we agree or not with the independence campaign, there is no denying the genius of Sogavare’s ploy. His willingness to sacrifice the MSG for the cause takes away the one lever that Indonesia had in Melanesia.

His key role in orchestrating an end run around the Pacific Islands Forum’s wilful silence is another trademark move. When human rights concerns were simply glossed over in the communiqué, he and others orchestrated a chorus of calls for attention to the issue in the UN General Assembly.

Manasseh Sogavare and his Pacific allies have found a strategy that is making the advancement of the West Papuan independence movement inexorable. As Ghandi demonstrated in India, as with Dr King’s campaign for civil rights showed again and again, anything less than defeat is a victory.

Without losing a single major battle, Indonesia is—slowly, so slowly—being forced from the board.

Dan McGarry is media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post.