West Papua - Solomon Star News

West Papua

31 January 2014

Dear Editor - Allow me to refer to the views expressed which were carried in your paper by concerned groups and citizens of Solomon Islands and our neighbouring Melanesian countries on the issue of West Papua. 

The MSG delegation that went to Indonesia on a 'fact finding mission' on the West Papua issue, was  alleged by some to have been hijacked by the government of Indonesia, due to the lack of meetings or consultations with the concerned communities of West Papua and their leaders.  

We learnt that the government of Vanuatu had pulled out from the delegation prior to the trip due to the exclusion of any consultations with the concerned West Papuan groups in the itinerary sent to the delegation by Indonesia.

Views expressed in the recent issues of your paper  were mostly supportive of the Vanuatu position and I do sensed that many Solomon Islanders who have a heart for our Melanesian brothers, may have also aligned themselves `with that Vanuatu public stance.

As a die-hard Melanesian soul, I do have concerns on issues relating to West Papua. I have no doubt many of your readers and most Solomon Islanders also do.

During my time at the University of Papua New Guinea, more than thirty years ago, I was part of a group of Melanesian students agitating and advocating Melanesian issues, through an established Melanesian student group advocating Melanesian Consciousness.

The group was led by Pierre Xulue of the FLNKS of New Caledonia and had representatives from PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and West Papua. The West Papua representative was a high level operative in the OPM command, well known to Solomon Islanders of those years as 'John'.

The group did what it can as a university student group and had time to address issues relating to the Kanaks of New Caledonia, West Papua and East Timor.

Thank God, East Timor is now a free country of its own. The Kanaks are on their way to vote for independence in a few years time and the Pacific Forum has played significant roles in the process and is still involved in the New Caledonia/kanaky process.

In the case of our French Polynesian (Tahiti) colleagues in the eastern Pacific, we must commend the government of Solomon Islands and especially our Ambassador at the United Nations, HE Collin Beck and others with likeminded friends, for the smart and expert move to relist that French territory on the decolonization agenda at the UN. All these current outcomes took decades of pressure, diplomatic manoeuvres etc to achieve.

Our poor West Papuans wantoks have been fighting a guerrilla war by themselves since the corrupt Plebiscite in the late sixties that saw the control of their country stolen from them.

It has been a long and difficult struggle as they were not supported by anyone for a long time (except Vanuatu through its own sporadic or periodic pronouncements).

In fact they were suppressed by the large countries, USA, Australia and their former master, Netherlands, as they have so much at stake with Indonesia.

It is only within the last few years that the West Papua issue began to get increased attention internationally mainly through civil society groups.

The approach by some of the West Papuans for some kind of seat or representation in the MSG group is aimed at increasing support for their cause, and I believe, this is well supported by most MSG members. PNG as we know is not at ease with this approach as it has for a long time recognised Indonesia's sovereignty over West Papua and had not publicly supported the West Papua struggle for liberation except accepting and supporting the thousands of West Papuan refugees on their land. PNG is very careful not to poke the eye of the sleeping tiger on this issue.

Contrary to the negative views expressed in your paper and other national papers about the MSG delegation to Indonesia, I must express my support for the inclusion of Solomon Islands and the effort by the delegation in general.

The main reason is this: Addressing and resolving such liberation struggles has never taken days, weeks, months or years to resolve, it takes decades and even centuries to achieve positive outcomes.

Since the MSG delegation's effort to Indonesia is the first of its kind at the formal national or regional level, the very fact that Indonesia accepts such a high level delegation, knowing full well the intention of the delegation, is an achievement in terms of liberation politics.

I believe your readers will comprehend that a large country such as Indonesia, with a far higher level of international standing than our very small countries dotting the gigantic pacific, will not bow down to demands of our small countries especially on such sensitive sovereignty issues.

The fact that they decided to receive us is a nod from them and is a first positive outcome. It signals to us that an agenda of 'positive engagement' with that country has been achieved.  All expert brains will now need to design the next phases of our approaches to our Asian neighbour on this issue.

One important thing to remember is this: Knowing full well the Asian giant we are dealing with, our approaches to them must be expertly and softly nurtured like some delicate or fragile organism that can work with you to achieve positive outcomes.

Adopting antagonistic moves and approaches as favoured by some of your contributors and even some governments is a derelict tool of the past and is usually counterproductive in the long term. Indonesia has a lot of experience dealing with such separatist national groups (East Timor and Aceh) and I am definitely sure that their strategists are busy drawing up counter strategies on the MSG approaches on the West Papua issue.

 The response that we got is an indication of the tough road ahead. It is up to our Melanesian strategists to read the minds of the Indonesians and ensure that the journey to freedom is shorter and peaceful as possible.

We should be reminded of what they did in East Timor when the citizens of that country voted to be independent from them years ago.

Hence, the acceptance by Indonesia of the MSG delegation knowing full well the purpose of the 'fact finding' mission is still a major stride towards an improved effort on the West Papua issue. In long term liberation struggles, one cannot give up on a mere first move. We must look forward to hundreds or more of such moves.

This is very important to note as this move/event seems to be the first significant one by the MSG on the issue to date and knowing full well that the MSG, in terms of the regional dynamics of the Asia-Pacific region, is a new sub group that is still building up its own international standing.

I believe the MSG will learn from this event and put in place new and effective strategies that will assist the West Papuans to strive towards realising their ultimate dreams.

Good luck for 2014.

By Moses K Biliki