International engagement on West Papua encouraged
An Indonesian government consultant on West Papua-related issues says that increasing awareness about West Papua in the Pacific Islands region and beyond is a healthy thing, but that for any engagement on Papua, the authority of Jakarta must be respected.
An Indonesian government consultant on West Papua-related issues says life for the indigenous people on the western side of New Guinea is far better today than during the years under the rule of President Suharto.
Franz Albert Joku is a former West Papuan independence campaigner who returned to Papua province eight years ago after many years in exile.
These days Mr Joku also represents the Indonesian region abroad, particularly around the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which recently granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
He told Johnny Blades that increasing awareness about West Papua in the Pacific Islands region and beyond is a healthy thing.
FRANZ ALBERT JOKU: In terms of keeping vigilance about inhumane experiences or human rights breaches in Papua or within the broader Indonesia or any country for that matter, I think this is helpful and is a positive development.
JOHNNY BLADES: How does Jakarta view the MSG diplomatic wrangle over people pushing for West Papua membership over Indonesia? Does it view it as a threat to territorial sovereignty or is it something it welcomes because it brings about more engagement in general?
FAJ: It is to be expected if there is concern, and I know there has been in Jakarta, about sovereignty issues. Any country facing a similar situation would also raise the same because it is the same international laws that govern the relations between nations and their participation in international organisations like the United Nations and so on. But I was happy to note that the government of Indonesia through its vice foreign minister which led the delegation to both the recent MSG and the PIF. And he expressed this on both occasions, Indonesia respects the sovereignty of nations in the neighbourhood, including nations in the Pacific. But the concern was raised in what capacity for instance ULMWP was going to participate. It was not just outright opposition but in terms of sovereignty the concern was raised by Jakarta, is ULMWP going to represent Papuan people, if so, where do you put this sovereignty issue. Because the sovereign authority in Papua today is the government of Indonesia. That was conveyed and I think the involvement of ULMWP was redefined and the delegation was told that ULMWP is in MSG as institutional observer. More like the Asian Development Bank and other institutions.
JB: So different to the FLNKS of New Caledonia?
FAJ: In my understanding, different - different historical path, different political circumstances that ushered each of them into association with the MSG. That is the difference.
JB: Recently leaders of Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have spoken in a way which is different to their predecessors about Papua. Not necessarily about independence, in Peter O'Neill's case, but talking about rights abuses. Do you think this is helpful?
FAJ: Not only helpful, I think it is healthy. Because the world over, governments are concerned about human rights abuses and so forth. I only hope that leaders of the Pacific nations take their positions and make their remarks based on facts rather than basing their comments or opinion on propaganda material with the advancement of technology, there is a lot of it circulating too. But if there are incidents for instance in Paniai, in Puncak Jaya, in Tolikara, in Timika just maybe a few weeks ago, factually it can be shown that there has been human rights breaches involving state apparatus, I think it is normal to expect firstly governments of neighbouring countries to raise concern in the way PNG's prime minister Peter O'Neill and the Solomon Islands PM and even Fiji and other countries, have raised, New Zealand and Australia too have raised the same concern. I think it is positive.
JB: You mentioned the propaganda thing. Do you think sometimes things are taken out of perspective?
FAJ: Papua has gone through its worst. The least we can hope is to address the issues and place them in their proper perspective, proper contexts, so solutions can be pursued and can be found. We had a lot of problems before. Since the day of integration for at least more than three decades we have gone through governance system that paid little attention to Papuan rights to exist as a people. Put aside the option of setting up a new nation of Papua outside the republic, I am not talking about that. But even as citizens of Indonesia, we have a right to exist in our own land. Whether we are part of Indonesia as a province or as a self governing region we have that right. And my position now I am advocating and looking more in that direction because I think options in that direction is more accessible, more feasible, it is available I know we just have to be tactful in negotiating the political deals with Jakarta to run our own region within the broader republic of Indonesia. Now I say this without meaning to undermine my brothers and sisters who are still out there in the jungle or in other countries advocating outright independence: I just look at the issues and try to place them within the context and try to look at what options are within the realm of possibilities.
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