Five Issues Need to Be Known About West Papua

West Papuan Liberation Representatives.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting some time ago accepted the presence of Indonesia as a member.
At the same time the West Papua Liberation Group was also accepted, but with observer status.

So what happens with the new development?
West Papua is now the name used by the independence supporters of the territory, to name two eastern provinces of Indonesia bordering Papua New Guinea. Administratively, this mountainous area comprises the provinces of Papua and West Papua and is home to some 250 ethnic groups of the Melanesian ethnic group. The separatist movement in West Papua remains a sensitive issue for Indonesia.

Here are five things you need to know to see what is happening in the region.

1. Looking back at the history of West Papua
The former Dutch colony, formerly known as Irian Jaya, was actually preparing for independence before Indonesia called this part its territory in 1962. West Papua was officially declared Indonesian territory after the Act of Free Choice (Pepera) in 1969 - a referendum overseen by the United Nations. At that time, about 1,026 Papuans were elected as representatives to determine whether the territory would remain with the Republic of Indonesia or not.
After that, there was armed clashes and violence between Indonesian security forces and pro-independence supporters. West Papua is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia despite having the richest mineral wealth in the world.
According to the Australian Institute of Internatonal Affairs, the poverty rate in West Papua is three times higher than the average in Indonesia.

2. What has happened recently?
Last June, a coalition of West Papuan organizations was approved to be an observer in a group called Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG), a regional bloc that includes Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands.
The group called The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) volunteered to become full members, in the hope that their movement would gain higher recognition. Members of ULMWP who attended the Summit in Honiara welcomed MSG's decision as a historic step for West Papua. Paula Makabory is from the West Papua National Liberation Coalition of Liberation, one of the resistance organizations working side by side with ULMWP. He told ABC that they would continue to try to become MSG members because we were a part of the Melanesian family

"We are not Asian, geographically speaking, our culture is Melanesian," Makabory said.

"For me, in the MSG, although only as observers, it is an opportunity to be there also to talk with Indonesia, as we have encouraged Indonesia for a peaceful negotiation," he added.

3. What about Indonesia?
MSG leaders decided to accept Indonesia as a member so as to pave the way for stronger cooperation between Jakarta and the Melanesian countries. Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, said Indonesia's sovereignty over West Papua could not be questioned.

"The province is an integral part of Indonesia, so when we talk about West Papua and its inhabitants, MSG has no choice but to engage with Indonesia, in a positive and constructive form," he said.

Sade Bimantara, a spokesman for the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, said there were 11 million Melanesian Indonesians spread across five provinces in eastern Indonesia.

"Indonesian membership at MSG will open and strengthen connections between Indonesian citizens and Melanesian brothers in the South Pacific. " he said.

Since 1998, Bimantara said that efforts had been made by the Indonesian government to improve the human rights situation in Indonesia especially in Papua.
The Human Rights Watch said that the Indonesian military behavior in Papua is one of the factors that creates a feeling of antipathy among Papuans towards the government.

4. Is There a Changing Situation in Papua?
Political observers in Indonesia say President Joko Widodo, unlike his predecessor, is trying to bring a different approach to West Papua.

"Jokowi's government is trying to improve the human rights situation, economy, and also security conditions in Papua," said Dr. Ikrar Nusa Bhakti from LIPI.
"Jokowi has visited Papua some times, and became the first Indonesian president to give his attention and time to take care of Papua."

During his visit last May, President Jokowi granted pardons to five Papuan political prisoners as part of government's effort to eliminate the stigma that Papua is a conflict area. He also announced restrictions on foreign media visits to the region were lifted.
In the security situation, Embassy spokesman, Sade Bimantara, said that there were still many challenges.

"Violence on both sides, both civilians, individual and armed separatist groups as well as the security forces," he said.

"When there is a violation, the police must act, and if necessary, such as dissolving the masses, this is done by regulation on how to deal with the masses," said Sade Bimantara.

"Allegations of violations by security forces have always been taken seriously by the Indonesian government," he said.

5. What will happen next?
Human rights activist, Paula Makabory, said, he doubted that the Indonesian government would keep its promises to resolve the West Papua issue.

"It is not surprising for me to see Jokowi promising all this, just as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and others have done before," he said.

Makabory says his group will continue their work for self-determination for West Papua.

"To gain independence, that's the goal." he said. "We need a proper referendum so that the people can vote - this is not my decision."

He added, "I would love to live in my own country, on my own land, in the land of my ancestors, which needs to be preserved for the next generation."

A spokeswoman for the Indonesian embassy in Canberra said no more vote would happen.

"No referendum is planned and will be planned for West Papua," said Bimantara.

"In 1969, the governments of Indonesia, the Netherlands, the United Nations and its members, and most importantly West Papuans reaffirmed that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia," he said.

Australia itself recognizes Indonesia's full sovereignty over Papua, as stated in the 2006 Lombok Treaty between Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia's sovereignty over the region is also widely recognized by the international community.

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