3 May 2013

Dialogue best hope for peaceful Papua region - academic

10:58 am on 3 May 2013

A leading West Papuan academic says dialogue remains the best hope for a peaceful resolution to the problems in Indonesia's Papua region.

The US-based Octo Mote, who is part of a group of exiled West Papuans promoting dialogue with Jakarta, says violence and human rights abuses have been increasing in Indonesia's eastern region over the last couple of years.

He says while it's been difficult to facilitate dialogue with Indonesia's leadership, it is important to make progress on this before the term of President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono ends next year.

Johnny Blades asked Mr Mote if there was any political will to listen to the West Papuans.

MOTE: Right now what we have is a political promise, there is no legal... As I said, as a negotiator, I believe that it is very important for Indonesia as a nation. This is not only for West Papua, but if Indonesia would like to build their performance as a democratic nation, West Papua is the only issue that still exists in Indonesia, besides religious freedom issues. So I think this is very important for Indonesia, really, to solve the issue through negotiation with West Papua's representative.

BLADES: There seems to be some momentum. Is it because there is seemingly increasing violence and increasing reportage of incidents in both those provinces?

MOTE: That's very true. The last couple of years there's been more and more violence, a huge military intelligence operation. They target, in particular, groups of West Papuans that are leading peaceful movements in West Papua. So I think if Indonesia keeps assassinating the leader, the issue will never be solved. And today, West Papuan people back home are commemorating 50 years of colonisation. I think it's very historical, this moment, to end this 50 years of colonisation through peaceful dialogue.

BLADES: What do you make of the prospect of the West Papuans given membership at the Melanesian Spearhead Group? It seems like it's the best chance ever in June, in Noumea?

MOTE: It is very important. Finally, after 50 years of struggling, our Melanesian nation really recognises us as a part of them. And they're willing to support. At least, up till now, we already get support endorsement from four nations - Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomons and Kanaky. And we hope very soon, this month, we'll also get support from PNG. So I'm confident that the current leadership in regencies, they really see that we are about to be extinct from our land. In 10 years from now we will only be 20%. So after we become a minority in our land, the next target is really PNG. In order to protect the whole New Guinea islands, I see the support by the Melanesian leader right now, it's important. Not only for us, but for Melanesians entirely. Because as soon as we get this support, we'll give a very significant influence into our struggle for the right of self-determination. And if you look at the history of the South Pacific Forum, back in the '50s, West Papua has always been part of this process. So I think this is important and very significant. We are looking really forward to becoming members.

BLADES: So you really think PNG would possibly be at risk of some sort of incursion, invasion by Indonesia if left unaddressed?

MOTE: Of course. It is a matter of time, you know? I visit four times now to PNG after I got citizenship in the US, before I was a political asylum refugee there. The influence by Indonesia, it's always in the grassroots. It's already in Wewak, not only in the border area, Vanimo for instance, but over in Wewak where you can really see a lot of Indonesians work in the logging companies. And I talk to a lot of the Wewak people and they explain to me that there's Indonesian activities all the way up there. So you can imagine when West Papuans are only 20% how fast this inflation will happen in the PNG side.

BLADES: So just back to the MSG quickly, you think that will significantly help to get some movement on the issue?

MOTE: Absolutely. And that is very, very important because right now the Indonesian government really doesn't see us as a equal political bargaining right now since we don't have support. We don't have military resistance as strong as Acehnese when they try to negotiate. We don't have any political kind of support internationally, for instance, if you compare with the East Timor case. So that's why the recognition from the Melanesian nation is very important to build our leverage, so that we can really negotiate with the Indonesian government equally.