Jayapura, Jubi/ Asia New Zealand Foundation – Assisted by an Asia New Zealand Foundation media travel grant, Māori Television’s Native Affairs producer and cameraman Adrian Stevanon and freelance photojournalist Karen Abplanalp travelled to West Papua, Indonesia in August. They were the first New Zealand television crew to visit the province in 50 years.
In the days leading up to our assignment to Papua, a lot of their work colleagues were asking where they was going and why. Their reply was generally met with a confused look followed by “Papua? Is that in Papua New Guinea?”
The lack of knowledge and public awareness about a territory so close to Aotearoa is actually quite remarkable.
If you don’t know where Papua is, it’s located just north of Australia – the province occupying the western side of the island of New Guinea. The region is largely referred to as ‘West Papua’ by western countries, although the area is actually divided into two separate provinces of Papua and West Papua.
It’s a resource-rich land that has been governed by Indonesia since 1969. The province boasts the world’s largest goldmine, and one of the world’s largest rainforests. There has also been a bloody struggle for independence since Indonesia took over governance of the territory from the Dutch.
Since the Indonesian takeover, West Papua has also tainted by allegations of wide-spread human rights abuse, and environmental destruction.
For more than 50 years, West Papua has largely been a no-go zone for foreign journalists, and after three years of trying our Native Affairs team was finally granted a visa to enter. This was a unique opportunity that had to be accepted.
Flying into the capital of Jayapura, the thing that hit us first is the size, and the beauty of the place from above. On the ground, one of the first things I noticed was the fusion between Asia and the Pacific. The number of indigenous faces at the airport was dwarfed by those from other parts of Indonesia who now call West Papua home.
Jayapura itself is bustling metropolis, with a population of over 300,000. The level of development was not unexpected, but the size of the city sprawl was, as was the quality of the infrastructure – which was certainly better than we had anticipated. The military presence was noticeable, as too the interest from locals to our presence on the street with a TV camera.
For a place that has a somewhat violent and dangerous reputation, our experience was safe and enjoyable.
Jayapura is a great place with great people, but it’s also a place that’s grappling with some challenging social dynamics.
West Papua has an indigenous population of around two million people who speak more than 270 different languages.
They travelled to the highlands, where the vast majority of indigenous Papuans live. Their aim was visit some villages involved in a New Zealand aid project that’s focused on the growth and commercialisation of crops, in particular kumara or ‘ubi jalar’ as they call it in the Highlands.
There are many traditional and cultural similarities between Māori and the Dani people we connected with. From the way they greet guests, and cook their food, to the traditional gods they worship, the cultural parallels are clear to see.
The concerns around colonisation felt by the locals we met echo the sentiments felt here by Māori. The loss of traditional knowledge and culture was by far the greatest concern for the village elders we spoke to.
Adrian Stevanon and Karen Abplanalp describe their trip to Papua.
“As youth from the villages get educated and migrate to the cities in search of work, few are willing to return to the hard graft of village life. So much of the village way of life operates around working the land and their crops. The Indonesian influence of rice is strong, with free rice delivered to villages by the government; many villagers don’t see the value in continuing to grow their traditional crops,” said Adrian.
“We were told this can lead to a break down in the functioning of the village, and lead to issues of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Traveling to the highlands and connecting with some of the indigenous people of West Papua was such an incredible experience. Their hopes and dreams and dreams for their kids are the same as ours, so too are the dreams of the kids. One teenage boy we spoke to said he wanted to be a pilot, another girl wanted to be doctor so she could help the sick in her village. Both spoke about the struggles of life living in a poor community. The irony is, theirs is a resource-rich land, with a third of Indonesia GDP coming from Papua alone. Its promising to see the Indonesian government loosen their grip on the province and allowing foreign journalists to enter, we hope this continues,” Karen added. (*)
ULMWP activists in Papua express gratitude to Oxford City Council
Jayapura, Jubi – Simon B Daby, a member of the Central Board Committee of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), said that West Papuans appreciate the Oxford City Council for granting the Freedom of Oxford” award to the Chairman of ULMWP Benny Wenda. Further, he said this award proves that the international community paid attention towards the efforts of the ULMWP and Wenda in fighting for Papuan self-determination.
The Freedom of Oxford is the highest honour given by the City of Oxford to people who have a significant impact on society. Benny Wenda is an internationally recognized diplomat and leader for the West Papua free movement. Since being granted political asylum in England in 2002, Wenda has fought tirelessly for the self-determination of West Papuans from his campaign office in Oxford.
Moreover, Simon B Dabby stated that this award is highly essential for all the people of West Papua. “We, the people of West Papua, congratulate Benny Wenda who received this award for his efforts to voice the calls of West Papuans for their right of self-determination to the international community,” said Daby on Wednesday (17/4/2019).
Daby continued to say that Mr Wenda has consistently declared injustice and human rights violations in West Papua since 1961 and campaigned for the right of self-determination for West Papuan. “Through this momentum, the people in West Papua convey to all state members of the United Nation to support their right of self-determination,” said Daby.
He also said the demand of West Papuan for self-determination aligned with the Indonesian Constitution 1945 in which stated in the first paragraph of the Preamble, “whereas independence is the inalienable right of all nations.” It is also following the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 1541 (XV) of 1960. The resolution stated that if a region has a geographical location and cultural ethics that are separate and different from its ruling and administrative state, this region is entitled to claim its right of self-determination.
Meanwhile, a member of the Legislative Committee of ULMWP for Anim Ha region, Pangkrasia Yeem, expressed his gratitude to the Oxford City Council for this award. He said the Freedom of Oxford award for Benny Wenda is a special gift for the Papuan people.
Furthermore, he asks all West Papuans to be united in advocating the ULMWP’s efforts for West Papuan self-determination. “With our support to ULMWP, we (will) establish our state as an independent and sovereign nation,” said Yeem on Sunday (14/7/2019). (*)
Reporter: Hengky Yeimo
Editor: Pipit Maizier
23 extra-judicial killings in West Papua last year – rights group
Papua, Jubi – A human rights group advocating for West Papuans in Indonesia says there were more than 20 extra-judicial killings by the military there last year.
Indonesian soldiers participate in a major military jungle warfare exercise in Poso, in central Sulawesi island, on March 31, 2015.
But the military has dismissed the findings, which come during an escalating conflict in Papua’s Highlands as rebels wage war on the state.
The International Coalition for Papua has documented 23 killings it claimed happened at the hands of Indonesia’s military in 2018.
The recently-released list ranges from bullet wounds to being burned alive, mostly in the troubled Central Highlands.
The rights group is demanding Indonesia launch independent investigations into all the cases, warning more deaths have been reported this year.
But a military spokesperson, Muhammad Aidi, said the report is a hoax and that some victims died from tribal violence.
He said others were rebels who died in gunfights after launching attacks on soldiers. (*)
West Papuan independence group urges primacy of TPNPB
Papua, Jubi – There’s strong opposition in West Papua to a reconfiguration of military forces in the struggle for independence from Indonesia.
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua, led by mainly exiled Papuan. claims it’s taking political leadership of a new unified military force, the West Papua Army.
The ULMWP last week said the Army was a united front between the West Papua Liberation Army, or TPNPB, and two smaller fighting forces.
Representatives of the TPNPB, and the broader Free Papua Movement, have since claimed they do not support thie unification anounced in the ‘Vanimo Border Declaration’.
This has been echoed by the West Papua National Committee, or KNPB, a pro-independence organisation focussed on peaceful campaigning.
Its international spokesman Victor Yeimo spoke to Johnny Blades about their concerns.
Victor Yeimo: We still struggle for independence, for our liberation. We need a liberation army. As you know, historically, this organisation (TPNPB) exist since 1961 and until today they exist, fighting on the ground. And the two other ones (the West Papuan National Army and the West Papua Revolutionary Army) separated from TPNPB. But in reality as West Papuans know, as well as colonial (power) knows, these two organisations never have an action on the ground. It’s not a competition between one organisation and another organisation, but in the unity, to liberate the West Papuan demand for self-determination, to go for our goal of freedom, we need one military organisation only. We don’t need many organisations. It wil make confusion in west Papua people. and it will make it difficult for us to make a solution; And it’s very dangerous for the guerillas and all the soldiers of the West Papua army on the ground because if there are three commands, three shystems going on in the ground, it will be difficult, because it will create problems within our military, and it will confuse. How can we attack the enemy through three systems of military organisations? In the revolution history, as you know, we need only one organisation of military.
Johnny Blades: But isn’t that what the ULMWP is trying to achieve, that they are all uniting?
Victor Yeimo: There are concerns in the constitution of the OPM (Free Papua Movement). As you know on the 1st of July 1971 when OPM declared proclamation of independence of the republic of West Papua, they have their own constitution. And this military, TPNPB, is under the constitution of the proclamation. Yes, it is important for us to unite, but in a military… they (West Papuan National Army and the West Papua Revolutionary Army) already split from the main organisation, the TPNPB. So I think now, in reality, the people of West Papua, we want to be free. So please if you want to unite, don’t degradate the existing organisation, the TPNPB, because today as you know on the ground TPNPB is still fighting with arms on the ground.
Johnny Blades: You’re saying that everything should be done under the auspices of the TPNPB, that it shouldn’t be a new united command; you’re saying it should be done under the rules and the constitution of the TPNPB because that’s the main military?
Victor Yeimo: Yes, the military has its own discipline of military. The constitution is something that we can discuss and unite. But the military is a tool for revolution. We need only one military and one discipline. So if they (the West Papuan National Army and the West Papua Revolutionary Army) if they have their own discipline of military, please bring it to the TPNPB. we have to strengthen the exist one. So then, what we want… we have one goal. So please use the existing one as our strength to attack the enemy. That’s the solution for KNPB. We are supporting the ULMWP but we encourage them to only recognise the TPNPB as the one and only military defence.
Johnny Blades: There’s been some criticism from people in the OPM, or TPNPB, about the way this (declaration) has been done. What do you think about the reaction?
Victor Yeimo: Yes, in the ground the reaction is negative. The other headquarters of each commander, like in Lanny Jaya, also in Puncak Jaya, also in Paniai, also in Yahukimo, also in Nduga, they are not involved in this declaration. So I believe that they are opposed to that declaration.
Johnny Blades: The KNPB has generally been a peaceful organisation. What do you believe in, does the military have a role in the struggle?
Victor Yeimo: Yes we support them in resistance as a defence force, as they have the same aim: to go for self-determination. But we have a different method. We organise people in West Papua through the peaceful means (including civil resistance and demonstrations). Until today KNPB believe in peaceful means. We don’t even hope the military action will give more influence inside our struggle because today people around the world, the solidarity just becomes bigger and bigger because our peaceful action in the ground. But it will not stop them fighting, because this is the reality in every struggle, a liberation army. We want our own military. It’s something that always happens in every struggle. So we want them to fight in accordance to their method.
Johnny Blades: The political leadership of the struggle, is it accurate to say that (ULMWP chairman) Benny Wenda is the head of that movement?
Victor Yeimo: I say that ULMWP should become co-ordinating body, not become a state or acting like a state. because we have too many factions and too many history. So we want today the organisations can unite all of the factions, all of the movements in West Papua through the co-ordination mechanism… like three years ago (at ULMWP’s inception). This is something important. We will have our own nation state after independence. So what we want today is to unite, co-ordinating the agenda and organisation, everything we can discuss. So, it’s not like now, everything comes from outside, from Benny Wenda, from outside. It’s not good for the unity. It will kill the unity because in our history there are too many people claiming they are the president, who claimed they have their own constitution and everything. We don’t want that. What we want today is freedom from Indonesian occupation. (*)
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