9 Feb 2015

PNG govt clarifies West Papua call

8:18 pm on 9 February 2015

Papua New Guinea focusses on Papuan human rights but also continues to support the provinces as an integral part of Indonesia.

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.

Peter O'Neill

Peter O'Neill Photo: Wikimedia

The statement came at a PNG leaders summit in Port Moresby where Mr O'Neill laid out core government policies for 2015.

It was a clear departure from the previous stance of successive PNG governments - that West Papua issues were a domestic matter for Indonesia.

"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," said Mr O'Neill, who told the summit PNG must take the lead in mature discussions at the regional level about West Papua.

"Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on the social media, and yet we take no notice," he said.

"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."

Indonesia's Papua region: the provinces of West Papua and Papua

Indonesia's Papua region: the provinces of West Papua and Papua Photo: RNZ

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 felt the Prime Minister had recognised the growing importance of social media in PNG's public discourse.

"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," he said.

"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 Mr Basil was wary that the West Papua issue was being used as a domestic political football.

He urged 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.

Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato.

Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Following Mr O'Neill's statement, PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato has been in touch with his Indonesian counterpart to clear up what he called misconstructions in some local media about his Prime Minister's statement.

"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," said Mr Pato, who denied that Indonesia's support for PNG efforts to join ASEAN hinged on agreement over the West Papua issue.

The Foreign Minister said the MSG matter was also separate.

"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."

West Papuans are applying for membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

West Papuans are applying for membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

A spokesman for the United Liberation Movement admitted it hadn't consulted Jakarta on the MSG submission, but said that Melanesian leaders did 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.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs