Wednesday, June 23, 2010

PNG accused of being out of step on West Papua issue

A Vanuatu member of parliament says he's not worried about reaction from Indonesia to Vanuatu's attempts to get the question of West Papua raised internationally. On Saturday, parliament unanimously passed a motion calling for the International Court of Justice to investigate the legality of West Papua becoming part of Indonesia in the 1960s.

Vanuatu has had a long association with pro-independence factions in the mainly Melanesian and Christian western half of New Guinea island, and is the only country that hosts a West Papuan diplomatic office. One of the members who strongly backed the parliamentary motion is independent MP Ralph Regenvanu, who says the West Papua issue is becoming more and more significant throughout Melanesia. He's accused the government of Papua New Guinea, which has always opposed raising the West Papuan issue internationally, of being out of step with Melanesian opinion.

Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Independent Vanuatu MP, Ralph Regenvanu <./i>

REGENVANU: I think the fact that Vanuatu's Parliament is strongly behind the West Papuan cause simply reflects the views of the population of Vanuatu. Throughout Vanuatu, people are very well aware of the fact that West Papua is a territory that is still under what we would consider colonial rule by Indonesia, that they are Melanesian people, and this is sentiment that has been held in Vanuatu since before independence and it has actually been renewed with the new generation of ni-Vanuatu that have been born since independence and West Papua is sort of a cause celebrate for a lot of people in Vanuatu.

HILL: Doesn't this put Vanuatu out of step with other nations in the region, such as Papua New Guinea, in particular, which have always been pretty strongly against raising the West Papua issue. PNG has a long land border with West Papua and they would never want to offend the Indonesians?

REGENVANU: Yes, but I think the situation with regardless of who has Papua is more about Papua New Guinea is out of line with their own general opinion through Indonesian states at least, if not through the Pacific. You've got to remember that, for example, at the 2006 Melanesian Arts Festival in Suva, Fiji decided to invite West Papua to participate as a Melanesian country or state or territory. You've got to remember that the people in New Caledonia are very sympathetic with the West Papuan cause, seeing themselves in that kind of a situation and you've got to remember also that Solomon Islands has a very strong support for West Papua, so it is more that Papua New Guinea is the only Melanesian country that consistently has presented its support for West Papua as being expressed at MSG leaders summits at the forum as well has advocated very strongly not to be raised against the wishes of other Melanesian countries.

HILL: Well, now that Vanuatu has taken this very, very strong international stand, do you think that other Melanesian nations might eventually join you in supporting West Papuan independence?

REGENVANU: That's very much what we're hoping, yes.

HILL: Indonesia is a very large, very influential country. Aren't you afraid of offending Jakarta by this? It is very much part of their territory. They see it as that way and they are not going to take very kindly to other countries as they would see it, interfering in their internal affairs?

REGENVANU: Yes, I think that may be a view that Indonesia will take most probably. Indonesia may choose to react how it will to this statement.

HILL: Now while this debate was going, a prominent Vanuatu politician Serge Vohor, said well, if Vanuatu is so opposed to Indonesian control of West Papua, then the country should go the whole hog and break off diplomatic relations with Jakarta?

REGENVANU: Yes, that is one of the views that is being held by members of parliament and the other view is that we need to maintain relations and talk about this as partners.

HILL: Do you think the Indonesians are just going to take this lying down? Do you think they will not retaliate?

REGENVANU: They may well retaliate. We don't know what will happen.

HILL: Does that concern you?

REGENVANU: It doesn't concern me personally, as an individual on ni-Vanuatu or as a member of parliament simply because we don't have many relations with Indonesia in terms of trade, in terms of anything. It is very clearly requesting the General Assembly to support a question being put to the international court of justice to provide an advisory opinion and we hope that that will be relatively uncontroversial.