PNG Seeking Joint Border Projects With

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

West Papua independence issue ‘looms’ in backdrop

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, June 4, 2013) – Papua New Guinea’s government is eyeing joint projects with Indonesia as a way of promoting economic growth in the underdeveloped area of the two countries’ common border.

A team from the Ministry of State Enterprises and Investment recently went to Jakarta, where it discussed establishing partnerships with Indonesian counterparts, particularly in the development of natural resources.

But, as Johnny Blades reports, as with any matter concerning this porous international border, the sensitive issue of self-determination for Indonesia’s West Papuan people looms over the collaboration.

Indonesia is shifting its oil and gas exploration focus to its eastern region of Papua and is considering joint operations with Papua New Guinea. The leader of the PNG government team which went to Indonesia, Dr. Clement Waine, says the first reason for their trip was to prepare the groundwork for the upcoming state visit to Indonesia by the Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill.

"The second purpose was to explore the possibilities of opening up the West Papua and on the Papua side the border areas, and explore for the petroleum, the minerals, the timber, fisheries and other natural resources over there. And that will help to open up the frontier, and I think it’ll empower the people of West Papua - ’empower’ in terms of the economic opportunities along their own border."

John Tekwie is the former Governor of PNG’s West Sepik Province, which is located on the border, as well as the country representative for the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation. He welcomes the joint development moves.

"I would be so naive and mediocre to use that Papua (Indistinct) to deny my people or even the people on the other side development and change for a better life. This is an opportunity that the governments want to maybe use for the betterment of all of us."

He places great significance in the request made by Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhyono to Peter O’Neill for PNG help to develop Papua.

"Indonesia’s president, for him to come forward and ask for Papua New Guinea’s help, that, in itself, has never happened before in the history of these two countries, so far as West Papua is concerned. So for us and the organisation that’s promoting the cause for the victims of West Papua, that kind of a gesture, that’s hope, positively, that something good happens."

But the Governor of PNG’s Oro Province, Gary Juffa, is among those who are opposed to any joint activities with Indonesia while its military forces are amassed in Papua and linked to ongoing human rights abuses and killings of West Papuans.

"Personally, I think PNG should not enter into any trade agreement, into any arrangements for business with Indonesia until such time as the West Papua issue is resolved. These are Melanesians. There are three million Pacific Islanders that live on that half of the island, and this government has blood on their hands still wet and dripping. And here we are trying to sit at the table and feast with them? It makes no sense."

John Tekwie says any resulting developments from the collaboration must not happen at the expense of the West Papuans and that lasting peace in Papua region can only come about if its indigenous people are given self-determination.

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