NOSTALGIA: WEST PAPUA: A PLACE TOO FAR

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HARLYNE JOKU looks at her birthplace across the border in West Papua and dreams of going there and seeing it for real one day.

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 30, 2000 – The National)---I traveled as far as the border post at Wutung in PNG's northern border province of Sandaun, and watched from a distance Jayapura and Mt Cyclop-Sentani in Indonesia's eastern most province of Irian Jaya – now known as West Papua.

The magnificent coastline of the west coast of Sandaun, which included the villages of Lido, Waromo, Musu, Yako and Wutung stretched further west of the Indonesian border all the way to Jayapura, the main city.

Following East Timor and Aceh, world media reports have recently focused on the province where West Papuans are now peacefully assembling and calling on their ruling power Indonesia for a political settlement.

Recently the Second West Papua Congress held in Port Numbay, Jayapura, at the end of May and early June, called for independence for Irian Jaya, now officially recognized as West Papua.

And here was I at the PNG side of the border, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) east, scanning the Jayapura coastline.

From that distance, I could clearly work out that Jayapura was a city at the waterfront with looming mountains in the background and Mt Cyclop in the nearby Sentani district was one of them.

I stood intrigued by the sight further west. I was born there in Flafou, Sentani, but grew up in Port Moresby. For over three decades, I knew Port Moresby as home.

Now at that Wutung border point, I was standing on the same land that stretched westward towards another country and my place of origin.

That is where I come from. There was where my entire family and relatives are -- and where my ancestors carrying my father's name were buried.

These thoughts kept racing through my mind.

Can I go there? I kept asking myself.

It was a Thursday, a fortnight ago. I could not cross over because I was not granted a visa to travel there by the Indonesian Consul office in Vanimo.

I was to have traveled with a group led by Environment and Conservation Minister Herowa Agiwa, his vice minister Bevan Tambi, Director of the Office of Environment and Conservation Dr. Wari Iamo, his assistant director Gunther Joku and two other officers.

A diplomatic note was sent on the minister’s behalf to the Consul Office for his sight seeing trip.

But that Wednesday, after filing stories in Port Moresby on the signing of environmental plans for the beef and veneer projects and the opening of the Sandaun Development Forum in Vanimo, my colleague Abby Yadi and I returned to a Sandaun motel to find two Defense Intelligence officers in the reception are who apologetically informed us that there may be a slight problem with our visas.

Only the minister and his group were given visas. The next day the intelligence officers followed us to the border and drove after the PNG Consul officer in Jayapura, Simon Namis, who had traveled to Vanimo to escort Minister Agiwa into Jayapura.

I had seen Jayapura from a distance at the Wutung point earlier before seeing the minister and his group board the Dambri bus at the border checkpoint at the gates of the Trans Irian Highway.

I stood watching the group leave with this mixed feeling of regret, anger, frustration and sadness. It must be our profession, I thought. It must be because we're journalists.

We were not given a visa because we were journalists, and our applications, as the Indonesian Embassy, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence officers advised us, had to be approved by Jakarta.

It would take some time, perhaps a week, months or years, I thought.

I had been told that twice now, previously in Port Moresby and now in Vanimo. I had this nagging feeling that it may be because of my origin.

And with all the current happenings in Jayapura and the indigenous West Papuan's struggle for Independence from Indonesia, it may be difficult to travel there.

The Indonesians probably believe we'd report the calls by the West Papuans for independence, although every other foreign journalist and news agency have been reporting extensively about it.

In Vanimo, I met an Australian freelance journalist, Andrew Kilvert, who had been reporting on the West Papuan Congress in Jayapura.

He said he had to leave in a hurry after he was tipped off that the Indonesian military police were after him.

The resolutions drawn by the congress were sensitive and the Indonesian government would have tried to control the media and their reports of the recent events happening there.

PNG has always recognized West Papua as being an integral part of Indonesia, which is its current policy and one which has continued to stand.

Last month, I formally applied for a visa from the Indonesian Embassy in Port Moresby to travel to Jayapura as a journalist to present a balanced coverage of the Second West Papuan Congress, but the response was slow. To date, a formal yes or no has not been forthcoming.

PNG shares a common border with Indonesia's West Papua province. The one land mass known in the colonial days as New Guinea was divided into two parts, the western part known as West Papua became a colony of the Dutch and the eastern part, the current day Papua New Guinea, was halved into two colonies, ruled by British and German administrations.

Today, despite the border, many people who live along the northern coastline, the hinterlands and down south along the Western province cross the border either way when they need to garden, fish or shop for food and other supplies because they have traditional ties and land on both sides of the border.

As I stood at that border post at Wutung point that day, I recalled the story by mother about how we first crossed to PNG.

I was 18 months old, when she carried us (my two sisters, brother and me) across the border on an outboard motor boat a little more than three decades ago.

We had traveled by this very same sea to Wutung where I stood watching on the PNG side of the border. The two beacons from the lighthouses on PNG's side of the border led us to safety.

And PNG was where all the assistance we needed was given in those late sixties. We became reunited with our father who had escaped ahead of us. He, like many other West Papuans, fled from Jayapura when former colonizer, the Netherlands, handed over West Papua/Irian Jaya under the auspices of the United Nations in 1963.

They were wary of their jobs and political future and hence sought political refuge in PNG.

Most of these West Papuan families are now either citizens of PNG, permissive residents or refugees. Many of the citizens, including myself, have been educated here and are contributing towards PNG's development in various professional fields.

Since then, home has been Port Moresby and PNG.

To date, unlike my other family members, I have never been to my place of birth, Sentani, or Jayapura. I cannot tell how Jayapura or Sentani appear to be, how drab or shiny the shops and buildings look, how the people live their lives, apart from hearing stories from my family and relatives who have visited.

But seeing the land from a distance at Wutung for the very first time after leaving it at a very young age, I have this strong desire to go back and see it for real and live there for some time.

There's also this strength and pride I feel from deep within that I really do come from somewhere in the west that is vast and magnificent.

And someday, I believe I shall return.

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News") Website: http://www.irja.org/ 

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