Report – By Alex Perrottet
Before the beating of Pacific drums and the festive yelps of the Rarotongan dancers, passionate cries of “Free West Papua” were the first sounds to break the new day of the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland.
At Queen’s Wharf, a posse of West Papuans and their supporters held placards and shouted slogans. Paula Makabory, a visiting human rights activist with the Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, was among the group, which also included a gagged West Papuan man inside a bamboo cage.
Maire Leadbeater, spokesperson for the Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Group, held the Morning Star flag aloft – it is banned in West Papua and those who fly it face arrest and imprisonment.
“The 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’ was a fraudulent procedure under which only 1,022 men were permitted to take part,” she said.
“All did so under conditions of extreme duress.”
She asked why the Forum had between 2000 and 2007 mentioned the issue of West Papua in its communique, but in recent years had neglected the issue.
Seeking NZ support
West Papuan representatives are in Auckland hoping to grab the attention with New Zealand’s political leaders.
Dr John Ondawame, spokesperson for the West Papuan People’s Representative Office, Vanuatu, has lived in exile since he was forced to flee the conflict in Indonesian-occupied West Papua in the late 1970s.
He said he is here to lobby the New Zealand government to agree to play the role of facilitator in promoting a “cohesive national unity” in West Papua, so that as a united people, West Papua can start negotiating more seriously with Indonesia.
“New Zealand has good experience in playing this role,” he said.
“In 1997 they led the Truce Monitoring Group which helped establish unity [ending the Bougainville civil war in Papua New Guinea], before there could be peace and self-determination.”
He said prior to that, New Zealand had brought the leaders of Bougainville to New Zealand for talks, and the same approach would assist West Papua greatly.
“This is an urgent call. We must have this by 2012, because after that election year in Indonesia we may not have a president as favourable as the current one.
“If a new president comes to power, we may have to start the dialogue all over again.”
Living in exile
Rex Rumakiek, secretary-general for the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPCNL), is currently based in Canberra, and has also lived in exile for decades.
He plans to move to Vanuatu shortly to join Dr Ondawame.
He said it was impossible to see development in West Papua when there was violence in the country.
“Within West Papua we are also confused as to whom we are going to negotiate,” he said.
“It would be very helpful if external forces were to help, such as a country with resources like New Zealand
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today spoke broadly about the meeting of countries aiming to achieve decolonisation.
He said West Papua should be included, but he stopped short of committing a delegation to investigate human rights abuses in West Papua, despite saying the UN was committed to protecting human rights.
‘Life and death’
“We are talking about life and death,” said Dr Odawame.
“We need to prevent further deaths. If the previous New Zealand Labour government could go to Jakarta and offer to become a mediator, then perhaps this current government can agree to be a facilitator of our unity.”
Rumakiek said there were 30 groups making up the National Coalition for Liberation and New Zealand’s leadership was essential for bringing the other important groups together.
“There’s the Papua Presidium Council, the Rebel Council and the West Papua National Authority. It will take a government to bring them together,” he said.
The activists say they have the support of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, as well as Nauru, Kiribati and Tuvalu, among others.
Dr Ondawame played down their chances of hearing anything from Papua New Guinea, labelling the government a “puppet of Australia”.
Late today Dr Ondawame and Rumakiek were still sitting in the foyer of the Sky City Grand Hotel expecting a call from Murray McCully’s staff, who had promised them a meeting.
While there is still time this week for their voices to be heard, it is uncertain whether the Minister of Foreign Affairs has time before putting on his Minister for Rugby World Cup hat.
Alex Perrottet is contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch and chief reporter of the Pacific Media Centre’s Forum reporting team.