NEWS coming from the troubled and enclosed nation of West Papua over the weekend are historic.
Indonesian president Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo granted clemency to five political prisoners who have been serving various jail terms for their alleged role in a raid on an Indonesian Armed Forces weapons arsenal in Wamena on 4 April 2003.
The alleged raid resulted in the deaths of two Indonesian soldiers.
Mr Widodo released the prisoners while on a visit to West Papua, which Indonesia has illegally occupied for the last 52 years.
Also at the weekend, Mr Widodo announced West Papua would now be opened to foreign journalists.
Since its occupation of West Papua, Indonesia had shut off this part of the world from the international media, while its soldiers continued to mistreat and abuse the men, women, and children of West Papua.
Mr Widodod’s decision to open West Papua to the world is welcomed news and one the international media will be closely watching.
The decision shows years of pressure are finally starting to pay off.
The announcement represents a solid step forward for media, civil society and diplomacy – within Indonesia and around the world.
But critics have their doubts.
For the decisions come at the back of Indonesia’s executions of eight foreign drug smugglers, including two Australians, and what media groups described as deteriorating press freedoms in Indonesia.
There are still deep doubts, too, that Mr Widodo has the political power to enforce this promise, but the announcement alone represents a historic moment in decades of foreign oppression in Papua.
While these may be welcoming news, Melanesians must not lose sight of the continued struggle and suffering our wantoks in West Papua are going through and their aspiration for regional and global recognition.
An application from West Papuan leaders, seeking membership with the influential Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG), is with the MSG secretariat.
It will be decided on during the MSG Leaders Summit in July this year in Honiara.
As Melanesians, we have an obligation towards our brothers and sisters of West Papua. We must continue to stand with them in their struggle for independence.
We need to recognise their suffering and bring their predicament to the world’s attention.
The worst we could do is to turn our eyes and ears away from their plight.
West Papuans look to Melanesia for support, leadership, and inspiration.
There’s no reason why their application for membership shouldn’t be granted.
They are Melanesians so they deserve to be part of this great MSG family.