Indonesia’s relations with countries in the Pacific region have received sparse media attention in recent times. However, a series of recent incidents and demonstrations have brought into question Indonesia’s right to sovereignty over Papua. The Jakarta Post’s Abdul Khalik joined an Indonesian delegation in a dialog last week with senior officials from Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Port Moresby to discuss problems along the 760-kilometer-long border the countries share. The event was preceded by a visit by Indonesian officials to the border town of Merauke in Papua. The following are reports from the event.
Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto looked with admiration at the giant statues of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno and his deputy Mohammad Hatta, which stand in the heart of Port Moresby.
“Both figures have united Indonesia, from Sabang to Merauke,” an inscription beneath the monument reads, symbolizing the PNG government’s formal recognition of Indonesia’s territories, which include West Papua.
Mardiyanto posed in front of the statue for pictures, smiling broadly.
“Although PNG is a relatively small country, we have a very active embassy here, and the ambassador has been working well to provide us with all the information we need,” he said, pointing to Indonesian Ambassador to PNG Bom Soeryanto, a retired general and former officer at the State Intelligence Agency.
Indonesia continues to fight a small-scale armed rebellion waged by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) as well as other pro-separatism organizations, including the International Parliament for West Papua, which questions the validity of the 1969 Act of Free Choice, or Pepera referendum, as a legal basis for Papua’s integration with Indonesia.
Indonesian officials have acknowledged the importance of support from nations in the Pacific region, especially PNG.
Director general for legal affairs and international treaties at the Foreign Ministry Eddy Pratomo said some small countries in the Pacific, including Vanuatu, had advocated West Papua’s right to independence in several regional forums.
“Thus far, PNG, under Prime Minister Michael Somare, has been our strongest supporter in preventing independent Papua movements in all regional forums. So, we need to enhance our relations with that country,” Eddy said.
During a meeting with Mardiyanto, PNG Minister for Inter-government Relations Job Pomat reiterated his government’s support for Indonesia’s national integration.
“Let me once again reaffirm that the government of Papua New Guinea’s stance, as it has remained over the years, is that the province of Papua remains an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia,” he said.
However, the border area between the countries has been the sight of reciprocal suspicions and distrust since PNG declared independence in 1975.
Some PNG officials have accused Indonesia of seeking to prevent PNG from becoming a sanctuary for OPM separatists, who have been campaigning for an independent Papua since 1969.
Port Moresby’s policy on border affairs has been overshadowed by fears of Indonesian expansionism, the country’s superior military might and sympathy for West Papua’s efforts to defend its cultural identity.
“We are a hundred years behind Indonesia’s strength and sophistication in monitoring an international border,” border police commander Sakawar Kasieng said.
PNG media, which has been very critical of Indonesia, has also accused its neighbor of attempting to covertly interfere with PNG’s domestic politics.
PNG and Indonesia signed a treaty of mutual respect, cooperation and friendship on Oct. 27 1986 to regulate relations and define rights and obligations in border areas. In the ensuing 22 years, the countries have held regular meetings to discuss bilateral issues.
However, many issues remain unresolved, including the high number of Papuan refugees in PNG, alleged incidents of Indonesia’s military crossing into PNG territory and PNG’s reluctance to conduct joint security operations in border areas.
Last week’s meeting offered no solutions to the problems.
“Much more attention should be paid to solving the problems and to the region in general to maintain support from PNG over the Papua issue. We can’t take it for granted,” University of Indonesia international expert Hariyadi Wirawan said.
He warned that support for Indonesia over the Papua issue could decline, citing the possibility that Australia and New Zealand could push PNG to reverse its stance on the matter.