As Indonesia waits on its election result, for many West Papuans the outcome is largely irrelevant. Both candidates Prabowo and Jokowi have surrounded themselves with military hardliners who are unlikely to substantially change the status quo in regards to policy on West Papua. A voting boycott called by West Papuan leaders against the election appears to have been widely adopted, with many protestors burning their election cards and claiming the only time they’ll vote will be for a referendum on independence.
Meanwhile significant developments on West Papua’s application to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) have also played out in the special MSG leader’s summit held recently in PNG. Although initial analysis suggested a set back for West Papuan membership based on the call for WPNCL (West Papua National Coalition for Liberation) to withdraw its application, the official MSG communiqué asks that a new application be submitted which represents all the West Papuan groups. The full Communique is here while the relevant section made in “Decisions”, is where the leaders noted in section 8:
(ii) Agreed to invite all groups to form an inclusive and united umbrella group in consultation with Indonesia to work on submitting a fresh application.
Although some West Papuan supporters are concerned about implications in the words “in consultation with Indonesia”, those close to the deliberations say Indonesia, as only an Observer member, cannot veto or make decisions on these next steps, even as it tries to influence it.
Last week in Port Vila meetings took place between WPNCL leaders Andy Ayamiseba and John Ondawami, together with a senior representative of the Federal Republic of West Papua grouping, Marcus Haluk. Haluk has been appointed Chairman of the Working Group for Reconciliation, which will oversee the establishment of a unified umbrella group incorporating the 3 main pro-independence groups; WPNCL, Federal Republic of West Papua, and the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB).
Haluk and the WPNCL leaders say they are committed to working together to establish a unified structure and that this process had been underway even before the latest MSG request. This issue of unity between competing groups has been a stumbling block for West Papua over many years but the opportunity for an MSG seat is driving momentum towards unity now. All the groups say they are now working towards this outcome. When asked if there were any ideological differences between them or whether it was all about competing personalities, Haluk said:
“There are no ideological or political differences between us. We are all working towards the same goal – independence. You can say that the rivalry that has existed between us is only to see who can be first and who can be most effective in getting there”.
The only condition to being part of the new umbrella group is to be pro-independence. Pro-autonomy Papuans like Franz Albert Joku and Nik Messet will not be invited to join.
“They don’t represent any Papuan groups, only themselves” said Haluk.
“They don’t represent any Papuan groups, only themselves” said Haluk. “As for me, I come from the Dani tribe, the largest tribe in West Papua which has half a million people and they all support independence. Not just our tribe, but 99% of all Papuans support independence.”
Despite being only an Observer Member of the MSG, Indonesia has mobilized much diplomatic and financial capital recently to woo the Melanesian states in an attempt to keep West Papua off the agenda and deny them an MSG seat. Fiji in particular has acted as Indonesia’s proxy, pushing Jakarta’s diplomatic line and attempting to maneuver MSG decisions in Indonesia’s favour, such as the controversial Foreign Ministers visit to West Papua on a “fact-finding mission” earlier this year that lasted only a few hours and prevented delegates from meeting anyone on the ground who was not pro-Indonesian. Vanuatu on principle refused to be part of the trip.
Marcus Haluk, Secretary of the Federal Republic of West Papua
Fiji has been financially and diplomatically rewarded by Indonesia – evidenced by Indonesian funding for a regional police academy in Suva and the prestige visit by President SBY to open Commodore Bainimarama’s PIDF (Pacific Islands Development Forum) gathering as a rival to the PIF (Pacific Island Forum). Yet Fiji’s maneuvering has created tension within the MSG grouping and the latest MSG summit in Port Moresby may well prove a set back for Suva and Jakarta – the communiqué was signed without Fiji. Insiders suggest that Fiji was confident the leader’s summit would endorse the Foreign Minister’s report, but it appears now that the leaders, while acknowledging the report, have chartered a different course that allows the West Papuans another chance for membership.
“This is Melanesian diplomacy” laughs Andy Ayamiseba. “Indonesia can try to bribe Melanesian countries but in the end “blood is thicker than water”. Just because PNG, Solomons and Fiji have taken Indonesian money does not mean they will support Indonesia’s agenda”.
How should we read the fact that Fiji was not present to sign the latest communiqué?
“When they realized that the MSG, in its wisdom, would withdraw WPNCL’s application but at the same time ask for a new application once there is a new united umbrella group, I think Fiji realized it was outmaneuvered and didn’t want to lose face by being there” says Ayamiseba.
Indeed it is hard to see how Melanesia can benefit meaningfully from Indonesia at a time when its military still enjoys complete impunity in its violent subjugation of West Papua and other Melanesians in Indonesia. For all the talk of Indonesian democracy, the fact is democracy does exist anywhere east of Bali. Keeping the entire province of West Papua off limits to foreign media and NGOs and controlled by a military fiefdom does not suggest any democratic values. Indonesia’s police and military forces have long been regarded among the most brutal and corrupt in the world, hardly offering a “model” for Melanesia’s uniformed services to follow; its former dictator Suharto is officially the wealthiest dictator in modern history, having looted US$70 billion over his 30 year tenure. His former son-in-law Prabowo, if elected, will likely protect and entrench the oligarchy there and threatens to wind back any democratic progress made since the fall of Suharto.
Even as President SBY handed a cheque for $20 million to the PIDF during his visit to Fiji for climate change projects, reports emerged claiming the world’s worst illegal logging is no longer by Brazil in the Amazon, but in Indonesia. Much of this illegal logging is overseen by local military commanders. There is clearly a policy disconnect when providing climate change funds to the Pacific at the same time you are allowing massive deforestation at home when forests are the best natural carbon sinks available.
While it is understandable that over the decades PNG, as a neighbor, has sought to minimize friction with its giant neighbour Indonesia perhaps out of fear, Fiji’s position is more puzzling. Many in the region support Fiji’s attempts to sort out its own domestic politics and be allowed to do so, but Fiji’s naked self-interest in pushing Indonesian policy (even as it kills fellow Melanesians) regionally, not just domestically, seems unworthy of a nation like Fiji aspiring to regional leadership.
In late August, Vanuatu will host an international gathering of all the major West Papuan groups in an effort to help them unify and resubmit a fresh application for MSG membership.
Indonesia is expected to know the outcome of its election by July 22.
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation has welcomed the nomination of the Netherlands' Honourary Consul to Vanuatu, Elizabeth Van Vliet.
Mrs Vliet has stated that the West Papua issue will be a high priority on her agenda to bring up with the Government of the Netherlands as its representative in Vanuatu.
She has said that she will connect West Papua organisations in the Netherlands with West Papua organisations in Vanuatu to promote the West Papua struggle.
Before it was incorporated into Indonesia in the 1960s, the western side of New Guinea was a Dutch territory.
The Coalition, which has an office in Vanuatu, says the Government of the Netherlands has a moral duty to accept responsibility for the human rights abuse and brutal killings of thousands of innocent West Papuans by Indonesian soldiers in the last 50 years.