PNG govt signals backtrack on West Papua call
Originally aired on Dateline Pacific, Monday 9 February 2015
There are signs that Papua New Guinea's government may be backtracking from comments made by the prime minister last week that it is time to speak out about West Papua. This comes as a fresh bid has been lodged for West Papuan membership at the Melanesian Spearhead Group. [topic] Pacific
There are signs that Papua New Guinea's government may be backtracking from comments made by the prime minister last week about the sensitive issue of West Papua.
In his strongest statement yet about human rights abuses by security forces in Indonesia's eastern region, Peter O'Neill said the time has come to speak out about oppression of West Papuans.
The statement comes as a fresh bid has been lodged for West Papuan membership at the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
Johnny Blades reports:
The statement came at a PNG leaders summit in Port Moresby where Peter O'Neill laid out core government policies for 2015. He made a clear departure from the previous stance of successive PNG governments, that West Papua issues were a domestic matter for Indonesia.
PETER O'NEILL: Sometimes we forget our own families, our own brothers, especially those in West Papua. I think as a country, the time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there.
Peter O'Neill said PNG must take the lead in mature discussions at the regional level about West Papua.
PETER O'NEILL: 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.
The statement went viral on the internet, and has met with widespread praise among advocates for West Papuan self-determination rights. The deputy opposition leader Sam Basil says the Prime Minister has recognised the growing importance of social media in PNG's public discourse.
SAM BASIL: The Prime Minister's call was being forced upon by many Papua New Guineans taking up the issue on social media and even on the media. And I give a word of thanks to the Prime Minister for taking the issue on but it's a little bit late. But it's good that now the Papua New Guinean government has a position on the issue of West Papuan atrocities and the issue of independence in West Papua.
However Sam Basil is wary that the West Papua issue is being used as a domestic political football. He urges the PNG government to deal with the situation in West Papua as an international issue.
Last week a fresh application for membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group was submitted by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. As PNG looks to engage more with Jakarta over West Papua, MSG membership is sure to figure.
Following Peter O'Neill's statement, PNG's Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato has been in touch with his Indonesian counterpart to clear up what he calls media misconstructions about his Prime Minister's statement.
RIMBINK PATO: Papua New Guinea's policy is and has always been that Papua and West Papua provinces are an integral part of the republic of Indonesia. Any efforts towards membership of MSG are a matter which can be acquired in consultation or with the support of the government of the republic of Indonesia.
A spokesman for the United Liberation Movement says it hasn't consulted Jakarta on the MSG submission, and that Melanesian leaders do not need Indonesian endorsement to reach a decision on the application. As ever, PNG's stand will be the pivotal factor on whether West Papua joins the MSG.