West Papuan cause loses important leader
The West Papuan pro-independence cause loses an important leader, after John Otto Ondawame died in Vanuatu.
The West Papuan pro-independence leader and political scientist John Otto Ondawame has died after suffering a heart attack in the Vanuatu capital.
Dr Ondawame, who is from the Amungme tribe in Mimika regency where the massive Freeport gold mine is located in Indonesia's Papua province, was the vice-chairman of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation.
He was centrally involved with the Coalition as it advanced a still active West Papuan bid to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
The Secretary-General of the Coalition, Rex Rumakiek told Johnny Blades the West Papuan cause has lost an important leader.
REX RUMAKIEK: Well, being an educated fellow and he also came from the place where, as the landowner with the biggest mine, the copper and gold mine of Freeport, he became sort of symbolic because despite (his people) being rich in mineral resources in this country, he was one of the poorest of all the campaigners. He was an ex-freedom fighter in the bush, as so many of us did, but especially him because he was arrested. He never planned to leave the country but he was arrested in Papua New Guinea and put in jail.
JOHNNY BLADES: He seemed to have a never-ending energy for the cause. He was always hopeful of the dream of independence for West Papuans, wasn't he?
RR: Yes, yes, he is. He was humiliated in many places for example, when he accompanied the Vanuatu delegation to a MSG meeting in Goroka in Papua New Guinea. Somare asked him, took the case up with the Vanuatu government, that they had to ask him to leave, put him in house arrest. We've been together for a long time, lobbying the South Pacific Forum, we've been to a number of them and even overseas, we attended a lot of conferences where we'd talk about West Papua. Him and I were in the 1993 World Human Rights conference in Vienna, putting our case together with the Pacific Islands Resource Centre.
JB: And you will continue his work, I'm sure, you and the coalition: there's still this MSG membership bid which is very much alive, isn't it?
RR: Yeah. Applying for membership was actually a deliberate effort to test the MSG's flexibility since they accepted Indonesia as an observer. It's outside of the principles of the organisation so we also applied to test whether under that flexibility we can also be accepted, even though we know it's very hard to get in as a member. The main thing is that we're on the agenda now so it's a reference now for the future, they will always be talking about West Papua, and people will always take it back to the decision they make about West Papua to solve the issue.
JB: And that is one of Dr John's achievements, isn't it, to have helped bring this issue to a new level.
RR: Yes indeed, he was the figurehead of the organisation, even though all the decisions are collective. But he was acting as chairman (even though he was officially vice-chairman). The wisdom of electing him as a vice-chairman was because the chairman is in the bush and could not perform his duties, so that's why we elected (Ondawame) as vice-chairman to act on his behalf, and he's been acting very effectively.
John Otto Ondawame was in his late 50s and is survived by his wife and son.
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