By Johnny Blades
In a battle of wills in the region, Australia and Indonesia now find the island nations have a measure of leverage.
One of the criticisms of the Pacific Islands Forum over the years relates to the regional grouping’s limited ability to advance its agenda in the face of the interests of Australia and New Zealand. The power imbalance hasn’t always made for a cohesive regionalism.
Yet it’s worth noting a rare victory for the island countries at the recent Forum Foreign Ministers meeting in Suva. It was a regular session, setting the agenda for this month’s summit of leaders of the Forum’s 18 member states in Tuvalu. Among the big items which Pacific countries are pursuing, alongside action on the climate crisis and ocean protection, is the festering issue of human rights abuses against the indigenous Melanesians of Indonesian-ruled Papua region, or West Papua.
There’s a new determination within the Forum that West Papua must stay on the agenda. Recognising the escalation of armed violence in Papua’s Highlands between the West Papua Liberation Army and the Indonesian military, as well as signs that rights abuses in the region are worsening, the Forum urged open dialogue with Indonesia on these issues, and for all parties to address the root causes of the conflict by peaceful means. The Forum has made these sorts of noises before. But now, notably, the Forum members have laid down a deadline regarding an ostensible invitation by Jakarta for the office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to visit Papua region.
This visit has been a fraught subject. Bachelet’s predecessor, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, last year complained that an earlier Indonesian invitation for the office to visit Papua had not been honoured, which in turn upset Jakarta. Concerned that Indonesia is dragging the chain again, Forum foreign ministers have called for the timing of the visit by the commissioner’s office to be finalised, and for a resulting report on the Papua situation to be presented before the next Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in 2020.
How did such unusually strong wording get past strong Indonesian allies within the Forum, particularly Australia? It took a heated discussion in Suva at the senior officials level ahead of the foreign ministers’ meeting. The wording was proposed by Vanuatu, the key regional supporter of West Papuan independence aims. Objecting to it, Australia officials traded back and forth with Vanuatu on the make-up of the resolution, which ultimately won the support of Pacific island countries. When it got to the foreign ministers meeting itself, Vanuatu’s Ralph Regenvanu fought successfully for the deadline provision to be included. It was a battle of wills in which Vanuatu prevailed over Australia.
It was partly a sign that Pacific islands countries have a measure of leverage over Australia that they rarely held in the past, because Canberra is anxious to keep friends in the region amid the looming presence of China. But it’s more than simply that. There’s a shifting dynamic in the Pacific on the West Papua issue related to a change in leadership in key countries.
The big change has been in Papua New Guinea with its reconfiguration of government. One of those who lost his job was the country’s longest-serving foreign minister, Rimbink Pato. In the role for almost seven years, Pato forged close relationships with Indonesian counterparts and proved effective at containing the West Papua issue both within the Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group whenever the regional organisations threatened to apply pressure on Indonesia. Without Pato in the mix, there was no objection from the Pacific foreign ministers to Regenvanu’s representations in Suva.
In addition, two relatively new foreign ministers in Fiji and Solomon Islands have injected fresh blood into the Melanesian bloc. Fiji’s government, hitherto unwilling to question Indonesia over West Papua, is now prepared to support a regional push on the human rights issue, as long as self-determination isn’t discussed.
It’s not as if Pacific governments can easily ignore the rights issue any more. Grassroots solidarity with West Papuans is growing in the Pacific as signs abound that the rights situation in Papua is worsening and demanding international attention. UN human rights rapporteurs are deeply worried about the culture of impunity and lack of investigations into allegations of violations in Papua by police and military. Furthermore, a World Council of Churches team recently visited Papua and was alarmed at the level of abuses.
Forum members are increasingly frustrated that its attempts so far to engage with Indonesia over West Papua have come to little, for instance that requests for fact-finding teams to visit Papua have been met with a dead bat. Instead of acknowledging Papuan problems in international fora, Jakarta focuses instead on the big infrastructure drive that President Joko Widodo is rolling out in Papua. His government is busy forging ties with island countries under its “Pacific Elevation” strategy. Despite what was at times a misleading representation of Papuans at its recent Pacific Expo summit in Auckland, Indonesia used the event as a big pitch about wanting to connect more with the region.
And therein lies the rub for Pacific island countries. If Jakarta is serious about elevating relationships with them, they feel it must come to the party more on West Papua. Indonesia has its own significant leverage in the region, but Forum countries are running out of patience. Previously Pacific island countries were divided on Papua. Yet when they speak together, as they appear to be doing now, they represent a force to be reckoned with. (*)
Docking their yachts at Jayapura Seaport, foreigners scrutinised by local immigration office
Jayapura, Jubi – Jayapura Immigration, Seaport Health Quarantine Office, Maritime and Port Authority secured and interrogated four foreign citizens on Wednesday (18/3/2020) following their act sailing to Jayapura sea and docking private yachts at Jayapura Seaport.
The Head of Jayapura Immigration Gatut Setiawan states the four foreigners arrived in Jayapura by two different yachts. The Singaporean Wong Tet Chong took Ximula-3 Langkawi, while Bruno Coolmet of France came to Jayapura with his wife and future son-in-law by Krypton.
“The four sailed from Sorong, West Papua Province and got clearance from Sorong Immigration. But, as soon they arrived in Jayapura, they were going to the downtown without reporting their arriving to the quarantine office and seaport authority,” said Gatut in Jayapura on Wednesday (18/3/2020).
In his statement, Gatut said Wong Tet Chong initially wanted to sail his yacht to Papua New Guinea but change the destination to Jayapura due to bad weather and engine problem. Besides, the authority of Papua New Guinea has currently closed access to the country.
“The immigration, quarantine office and seaport authority has interrogated (him) and conducted the thermal check as a procedure of coronavirus anticipation. His body temperature was normal, so we gave him two days to leave the Jayapura water. If he is still around [more than two days], the seaport authority will forcibly pull out his yacht out of Indonesia,” said Gatut.
Meanwhile, Gatut said the immigration did not found any immigration violations conducted by Bruno Coolmet, his wife and their future son-in-law because they have a legal permit to stay until 1 April 2020.
“Although they did not break the immigration rule, they should deal with both quarantine office and seaport authority because [docked and left their yacht at the seaport] without reporting. In the future, we will be more restricted to protect the security of the sea from invasion by foreigners or others by involving the quarantine office, seaport authority and other relevant offices,” said Gatut.
After completing their administrative issue with the quarantine office, the three French national should leave the Jayapura Sea. “The immigration is keeping their documents as a guarantee,” he said.
Earlier, Deputy Governor of Papua Province Klemen Tinal asked the Immigration, Seaport Quarantine Office and other relevant offices to restrict the surveillance over passengers at airports, seaports and other entries to anticipate the spreading of coronavirus to Papua.
“Restriction and inspection should be done more strictly to both foreign and domestic passengers coming to Papua,” he said. (*)
Reporter: Alexander Loen
Editor: Pipit Maizier
Goliat Tabuni asks independent team to investigate the church burning in Tembagapura
Jayapura, Jubi – West Papua Liberation Army (TPNPB) challenge the Government of Indonesia to provide access for an independent investigation team investigating perpetrators behind the burning of a church in Tembagapura Sub-district, Mimika Regency, Papua in a press released by TPNPB. The statement of the Supreme Commander of TPNTP General Goliat Tabuni received by Jubi on Wednesday (18/3/2020).
On Thursday (12/3/2020), the Indonesian Gospel Tent (GKII) Church of Sinai Congregation in Opitawak Village of Tembagapura Sub-district reportedly burned out. The Indonesian security forces pointed finger to TPNPB as perpetrators. However, General Goliat Tabuni denied all allegations in his press release.
In turn, he believes this incident was part of the game playing by the Indonesian security forces to discredit the image of TPNPB in which they have always done for a long time. “This is not new, but [it has happened] since 1960 to the present. The Indonesian Military and Police have done it for a long time,” said Tabuni in his press release.
Furthermore, Tabuni said TPNTP was not surprised by many reports accused them as the perpetrator behind the church burning. Therefore, he challenges the Indonesian Government to provide access to an independent investigation team to investigate.
Meanwhile, TPNPB spokesperson Sebby Sambon confirms the statement released on behalf of Goliat Tabuni as valid. Further, he says the independent investigation team preferred by TPNPB is a joint investigation team of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council and the National Human Rights Commission of Papua Office.
“If they want to find who is behind the church burning, the Indonesian Government must allow the independent team to investigate. [The independent team is] the Human Rights Council [United Nations] and the National Human Rights Commission of Papua Office,” Sambom told Jubi on Wednesday (18/3/2020).
Furthermore, he said the Indonesian Government should be able to prove their accusation through a fair and impartial legal process, not only pointing fingers to TPNPB. “The Indonesian Military and Police should not just accuse TPNPB, and the Indonesian media should not unilaterally publish the one-side story,” said Sambom.
Meanwhile, Antara News Agency launched the statement of Tembagapura Police Chief Adjunct Commissionaire Hermanto saying the insurgent group led by Lekagak Telenggen and Joni Botak burned down the GKII Sinai Congregation Church in Opitawak Village.
“The church was initially crowded by Opitawak villagers for worshipping and other church activities. However, in several recent weeks, the armed group came to spread terror in this village. People finally have to give in to this situation,” said Hermanto to Antara. (*)
Reporter: Benny Mawel
Editor: Pipit Maizier
80 candles lit to commemorate one-year of Sentani flash flood
Sentani, Jubi – Flash food that hit Sentani on 16 March 2019 is still kept strictly in the memory of those who experienced it. Even today, after one year of the disaster, many people are still living in refugee camps. To commemorate one year of the incident, young people and the Baptist Sunday School of Imanuel Toladan Church organise worship and several activities to pray for their family members who passed away in this natural disaster.
“We have not prepared this event for a long time, but we think this is what we can do. We want to remember the incident where all Sunday School’s students were gathering in the ‘island’ for worshipping then suddenly the flash flood came,” says Jenny Marlin Wenda, the GBIT Sunday School Principal, to Jubi on Monday evening (16/3/2020).
Furthermore, she adds that there is nothing more valuable than being grateful to God.
“So, here we are today. Mr Jeff Ron comes to give us a preach and motivate those who attend the worship today. Before praying, we lit 80 candles that provided by our school, then watch movies while gathering for coffee in the churchyard,” she says.
Besides youth and Baptist congregations, this event also involves nearby neighbours.
“We also thank those who participated to join the event and pray with us. We meet with families of victims who join and bring some food for all of us to enjoy. They feel this worship is important to them, so they come to join,” she says.
Moreover, she says no one ever thinks that they would survive in flah flood.
“When remembering that experience, I am sad because it caused 114 death, 205 missing and 961 injured, while approximately 11,725 are currently living in refugee camps. “
Meanwhile, Jeff Ron Sohilait in his preach says in difficult time humans might not think that they will survive during a flash flood, but nothing is impossible for God. God opened the way for us when we were at the island at the time.
“At that night, God opened us the way. He brought us out of place at that time. It means He has a certain purpose for the children of Sunday School in this world,” he says.
“On Saturday evening one year ago, these children went to the worship, and because of their prayer, God came to save them. This is a great testimony where God came to them in the sudden episode and guided them to the safe place,” says Jeff Ron. (*)
Reporter: Yance Wenda
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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