Posted By Staff Reporter
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has released five “freedom-fighter” prisoners from the fractious province of Papua and then flown to neighbouring Papua New Guinea, in a last-gasp bid to prevent the Papua independence movement gaining membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
The MSG comprises the national governments of PNG, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu, and has a secretariat in the latter’s capital, Port Vila.
The leading independence movement for the French territory of New Caledonia — the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) — is already a member, providing a precedent for the Papuans. The MSG will hold a special summit in Port Moresby on May 21 to consider the membership of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua — the latest of a series of umbrella organisations claiming to represent the varied independence groups there.
A final decision will be made at an MSG leaders’ summit expected to be held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, in July or August.
Joko will also seek to ensure through closer relations with PNG — the largest Melanesian country — that Indonesia does not “lose” its Pacific island neighbours to the east in the way it has “lost” Australia through the manner of the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
The President arrived in Port Moresby Monday, and departs today. Over the weekend, he visited both the Indonesian provinces in the west of the island — Papua, which has an 820km largely mountainous, jungle-clad land border with PNG, and West Papua, further west.
Besides pardoning the prisoners, who were convicted of a raid on a military arsenal in 2013 and sentenced for life — and who have had to admit guilt as a condition of release — he relaxed a travel ban on foreign journalists visiting the restive provinces.
After a meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi 10 weeks ago, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said he supported the admission of representatives of Papua and West Papua to the MSG, which he described as “the ideal forum to foster greater people-to-people relationships between Melanesians”.
O’Neill will host in mid-September the annual leaders’ summit of the region’s senior political organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum, which also includes Australia — and where Papuan independence activists also perennially seek to have a say.
O’Neill said as Joko was about to arrive that “we’ve got very strong relations with Indonesia, which are building from strength to strength”.
But popular sentiment in PNG about its neighbour tends to differ, due to the often marginalised position of their fellow Melanesians across the border.
So O’Neill Monday urged that Joko be given “a warm welcome, as we do to everybody”.
O’Neill, like previous PNG leaders, has sought to tread a fine line on Indonesian relations.
He has avoided backing independence for Papua and West Papua, an emotive issue for Indonesians, while saying three months ago: “As a country, the time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there (Papua).
“We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded. Again, PNG is a regional leader.”
While he is in Port Moresby, Joko will sign a memorandum of understanding between the countries to upgrade co-operation on transnational crime.
The Indonesian President is also expected to raise concerns about PNG’s granting of citizenship to tycoon Djoko Tjandra, who was sentence to two years’ jail in absentia for corruption.
SOURCE: THE AUSTRALIA
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