11 Sep 2017

Indonesian officials response to Apia protest 'arrogant'

4:40 pm on 11 September 2017

Indonesian officials have been criticised for the manner of their condemnation of a West Papua protest during the Pacific Forum summit in Apia.

Tantowi Yahya Inonesia's Ambassador to New Zealand.

Tantowi Yahya Inonesia's Ambassador to New Zealand. Photo: RNZI/ Koroi Hawkins

A protest in support of West Papua's independence movement was held outside the venue of the Pacific Island Forum Leaders summit in Samoa's capital last week.

Subsequently, Indonesia's Ambassador to New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga, Tantowi Yahya, condemned the protest in a heated press conference.

"In our perspective, talking about West Papua in this conference is not the place because from the beginning there is no agenda as such," said the ambassador who was attending the summit as part of a large Indonesian delegation.

The Samoa Observer reported that voices were raised during the conference held by Mr Tantowi and another Indonesian government representative, Franzalbert Joku, attracting the attention of police.

Mr Joku, a West Papuan, said the Forum was not the place for the Papua issue to be raised, and accused Pacific Islanders of being misled on a human rights situation that had largely improved.

"It's regrettable that Pacific Islanders all of the sudden want to address the Papua issue, now," he said.

"The Papua issue has been at the forefront since the late 50s and early 60s. We have seen our worst. Where the hell were the Pacific Island nations when we really needed that kind of expression and that kind of concern coming from them?"

Indonesian government consultant on West Papua-related issues, Franz Albert Joku.

Indonesian government consultant on West Papua-related issues, Franz Albert Joku. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The co-ordinator of the workers union Samoa First, Jerome Mika, who earlier led the protest, said Mr Joku's response to media in regards to West Papua was appalling.

"I think it's arrogant and we won't be bullied by people like the Indonesian representative," said Mr Mika.

"It also shows just the sort of behaviour and the condescending behaviour that we're getting as a Pacific when we should be standing together for our West Papua brothers and sisters. We should also be speaking out as a collective rather than as individuals."

David Tua (left) and Labour's Pacific Vice-President Jerome Mika (right) march on parliament for West Papua freedom.

Samoan New Zealand boxer David Tua (left) and Samoa First co-ordinator Jerome Mika (right) march on parliament for West Papua freedom in August 2016. Photo: RNZI/Johnny Blades

A Vanuatu-based West Papuan who had campaigned for independence for decades, Andy Ayamiseba, said he generally respected Mr Joku's efforts to strive for a better Papua within the Indonesian system. But Mr Ayamiseba noted Mr Joku's "amateur reaction" at the press conference.

"As far as I am concerned this explained that the Indonesian lobby in the Pacific Region has come to a dead end," Mr Ayamiseba said.

Tuilaepa defends Forum leaders over West Papua

Samoa's prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has defended the brief wording about West Papua in the communiqué from last week's Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit.

The previous two Forum summits agreed for Pacific leaders to push Indonesia's government on the matter of human rights abuses in Papua region.

However Jakarta knocked back the Forum's aim of a fact-finding mission to Papua.

Despite this, the communiqué from last week's summit said leaders noted "constructive engagement" with Jakarta on Papua and that they would "continue a dialogue in an open and constructive manner".

Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi in Wellington.

Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi in Wellington. Photo: RNZ/ Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor

Speaking after he and fellow Pacific leaders concluded their summit, Tuilaepa denied a suggestion that the language used was weak.

"It's the most powerful wording we could find. You know, these issues are very sensitive," said the Samoan prime minister whose government recently embarked on a trade relationship with Indonesia.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Foreign Minister indicated there was concern in the Pacific Islands about the West Papua situation, and stressed the importance of keeping the lines of communication open.

According to Gerry Brownlee, engagement with Jakarta over West Papua was predominantly about human rights issues.

"Of course if you think about Timor Leste started out as being a similar dialogue with the Indonesian government and I think what it is really saying is (there's) no desire to see this escalate into out-and-out warfare," he said.

National MP, Gerry Brownlee.

Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

While, the Apia Forum did not advance the West Papua issue to any significant degree, regional countries with the Forum who are concerned about Papua are taking it up at the United Nations level.

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