Blurring of the line between PNG and Indonesia
The 750-kilometre land border between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea has long been problematic but there's an increasing blurring of the line as links between the two sides grows.
Papua New Guinea communities along the border with Indonesia say growing links with the other side are inevitable.
The 750-kilometre line down the middle of New Guinea is the Pacific Islands region's only international land border.
The division has long been problematic but Johnny Blades found the line is becoming increasingly blurred.
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The border is long and porous, difficult to secure and an artificial barrier to many tribal groups who live on both sides. For many years, Indonesia and PNG have allowed members of these communities to move back and forth. One of them is James Nunakru from Lido village on PNG's north coast, a 40-minute drive from the border.
JAMES NUNAKRU: Those people who are living close to the PNG border, we have relatives who are living on the other side of the border - we sort of have common, traditional ties. That is why even though West Papua is ruled by Indonesia we still have those traditional ties and we still travel across for customary purposes and things like that, not using passports but using traditional TBC cards - a traditional border card.
Another source of cross-border traffic is the OPM Free West Papua Movement whose members have long used PNG as a haven in their separatist conflict that has simmered in Indonesia for decades.
JAMES NUNAKRU: I cannot give you any exact figure but we have elements living on our side of the border and we have PNG sympathisers who accept them when they come into our territory. Sometimes they are in search of medicine, maybe food supplies, and others they just cross over to escape from Indonesian authorities.
At the far north, PNG people frequently use the crossing at Wutung to visit the Bhatas markets, just inside Indonesia, which offer a huge range of cheap goods. The Governor of PNG's West Sepik province, Amkat Mai, says this has its downsides.
AMKAT MAI: We think that Indonesia is benefiting more from this trade than us because even our kina gets across the border into Jayapura. Jayapura is becoming now a vibrant city rather than Vanimo and West Sepik province. So there is a trade imbalance. That's why we are urging the government to do more by encouraging the concept of free trade and get all these PNG companies established in Vanimo so that the trade can be balanced. Right now it's one sided, our people buy all the stuff from Indonesia but at the grassroots level, or SME -- small to medium enterprise -- level, it's good for the grassroots because they buy stuff at Bhatas, they sell them and they make money for their daily living, like school fees, medical bills, etc. But for us as a government, we are losing big time because money is going one way, to the other side.
In a sign of growing links, the municipal administration of Indonesia's Jayapura city has forged co-operation agreements with counterparts in the two main towns of PNG's Sepik region, Wewak and Vanimo, in sectors such as fisheries, agriculture and education. And the two national governments have plans to boost collaboration in areas of infrastructure, as Amkat Mai explains:
AMKAT MAI: They recommended that PNG gets its power from Vanimo; Vanimo gets its power from Jayapura. So, the Indonesian side, they have actually built a power station and the power station has come as far as the border line... I think temporarily it's worth doing because the maintenance of the power and it's going to be cheaper to get from Indonesia than maintaining our own generators, but eventually in the end we should have our own power. You know, we have plenty of rivers and streams, we could source power ourselves later.
West Sepik people are increasingly turning to the other side for better services in education, health and telecommunications. While the Governor and others are wary of becoming reliant on Indonesia, he wants to grow people-to-people links.
AMKAT MAI: We are close neighbours, we are friends, we are buddies, the border should not seclude us from understanding each other and create cooperation between the youth of Papua province, Indonesia for that matter and Papua New Guinea. I would like to see more Papuan people visiting Papua New Guinea and more Papua New Guineans visiting Jayapura, going there for education or for trade or for sports, I'd like to see more sports being encouraged.
But Indonesia's sensitivity about support for West Papuan self-determination remains an obstacle. Persipura Jayapura, the champions of the Indonesian football league, were recently invited to PNG to play the national side to mark Papua New Guinea's 40th anniversary of independence; but after reaching the border, the Indonesian consulate in Vanimo barred them from entering. However Indonesia's president Joko Widodo has started to open up outside access to Papua region. And the Papua Customary Council secretary general, Leo Imbiri, says in the last few years civil society collaboration with PNG has increased.
LEO IMBIRI: I mean, I will see the participation of the church, some of the church organisations in Papua New Guinea can come visit us here. Also from indigenous people organisation. But I can't really assume that in the future, the process will be smoothly increasing because if sometimes the process depends on how the government determine or interpreted the collaboration that now we have built.
Yet there's a growing understanding that the two sides of New Guinea have common concerns. Not the least of which, according to West Sepik environmentalist Dorothy Tekwie, is rampant illegal logging and destruction of much of New Guinea's huge biodiversity.
DOROTHY TEKWIE: Well the island of New Guinea is the third largest tropical rainforest on earth. The first is the Amazon and then the Congo and this is the third largest. Well it is going very, very fast under logging. And here you know the world is talking about climate change, they really are not doing anything about saving the forest on this island. Both sides of this island. You know, I talk about this island because this is New Guinea the island of New Guinea. I see it as just one Island. You know it is not Papua New Guinea and Indonesia or West Papua, no. This is one island it is supposed to be one island and meant to be one people anyway. So the situation here is if we don't do anything about taking joint action on both sides we are going to lose this biodiversity we are going to lose this because the logging is going faster than we government or the government can take action or take responsibility for.
While such a thought is rarely outwardly entertained by either country, anxiety about an Indonesian takeover is something that festers in the backrows of PNG's national mindset. However growing demand for co-operation means various forms of merger between the two sides could become a fact of life.
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