Govt resigns to improve malaria fight
Development aid: Cause and effectiveness

The scandal of Operation Sunset Merona


IN JANUARY THIS YEAR, Special Operation Sunset Merona (led by the Papua New Guinea police and army) burned down villages and camps of West Papuan refugees in and around Vanimo.

Most of these refugees had residency papers and had been legally in PNG for many years.  They had fled persecution in West Papua at the hands of the Indonesians.

This is very much still a relevant story. Though my film footage was taken earlier in 2011, our contacts have informed us that Sunset Merona still has a presence in Vanimo.

All of the refugees (men, women and children) who fled into the bush are – six months later - still hiding to avoid capture and beating, and possible risk of being turned over the Indonesian government, where they would face certain death.

It goes against every element of the UN Charter for Refugees or which PNG is legally bound.

I am attempting to get this footage to as wide an audience as possible - to raise awareness of how these West Papuan refugees are being treated by PNG.

The footage was taken on Wednesday 16 February in the jungle near Vanimo - less than 50 km from the West Papua border.

It shows West Papuan refugees returning to their village for the first time since it was burnt three weeks earlier by special operation Sunset Merona.

The men came out of hiding in the bush to talk to me, and the women were able to leave for only a couple of hours where they were being held, as they told their captors they were looking for food from the garden.

After I left the men went back into the bush to hide, and the women returned to where they were being held.

This footage is clear evidence of contravention of the UN Charter for Refugees by Papua New Guinea, and also raises major questions about the legality of special operation Sunset Merona and the alleged involvement of the Indonesian government in pressuring the Papua New Guinea authorities to undertake these raids.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Stephen Cox

Let's be realistic. West Papuans are just another repressed minority when it comes to indonesia - a country that, when it formed, inherited many nations under a Dutch banner.

Their treatment, whilst deplorable, is common place in so many areas of the world. Sadly it is most likely they will be overshadowed by a growing menace in South Africa with a 30 year old illiterate set to creat a new Zimbabwe.

In both PNG and Australia the problem could be solved with resolve and real leadership, something sadly lacking currently in both countries.

Remember, united we stand, divided we fall. There are others in the area with issues that are comparable such as the Philipines, who have long standing problems caused by Indonesian backed separatists in the southern islands.

You have more potential allies than you think when you seek those who share the same burdens and together can help one another solve mutual problems.

The only exception when it comes to help is the UN, for in many cases they are the enemy.

David Fedele

I am the one that took this footage of the West Papuan refugees in PNG.

The saddest thing about this whole affair, is that now - six months later, my information is that the people in this footage are still hiding in the jungle.

They are too afraid to come back to their village or to Vanimo town for the fear of being beaten or turned over to the Indonesian authorities.

So apart from just watching this footage - is there anything that can actually be done to help these people?

Peter Kranz

Well I suppose there is some realpolitik at work here. What could PNG really do if it stands up to Indonesia? Ban nasi goreng from kai bars?

Australia hasn't had the guts to do it. Neither does the US.

Sad thing is it's the poor bloody locals who bear the brunt.

Arthur Williams

Of course the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees claims they are not refugees.

On 28 May 2010, The National reported UNHCR rep Walpurga Englbrecht as saying: “There are only 13 recognised refugees and 6 asylum seekers in PNG... They are all non-Melanesians!”

But then added, “UNHCR knows there are over 10,000 West Papuans in PNG.”

If they were accredited refugees, then PNG would have received assistance from UNHCR. I think it is still the case that they are called 'border crossers', not refugees.

PM Somare has always stressed PNG wants nothing to do to antagonise 'big brother' Republik Indonesia and was happy to go along with status quo and to allow UNHCR non-refugee status to continue.

In his meeting with Hilary Clinton in November 2010, the prime minister said: “There were anti-Indonesian groups distributing such reports alleging human rights abuses.”

When asked about human rights violations, Mrs Clinton said: ““I have no comments to the specific matter referred to.”

Many years ago, USA's Henry Kissinger wanted nothing to do with independence for West Papua as he needed to keep Indonesia on side against the perceived communist threat to South-East Asia and the Pacific.

Only the Dutch stood up for West Papuans after Holland period as a colonial power was ended by Indonesian nationalism.

Sad to see that Indonesia got observer status at the last Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting, but there was no West Papuan delegation. Somare and his so-called tough mate from Fiji had nothing to say about their absence.

Crazily, half a small island - tiny East Timor - got rid of RI shackles but nobody in the UN wants to discuss the huge West Papua, or at least until all its resources have been raped.

Shame on your convicting silence.

Renee Stanley

The West Papuan refugees are the special business between the PNG government and the Indonesian government.
Money can buy everything in PNG including government and law and order.

Kevin E Murphy OBE

As a Patrol Officer, I was posted to Wutung Patrol Post in the later months of 1969.

The incursion along the border by the 'Brimob' (Indonesian military and police) was a constant occurence. The Australian Administration did nothing to stop this situation.

The West Papuan refugees at that time were treated very poorly and were moved into Yako and Blackwater refugee camps. Many were sent back over the border at Wutung.

Most of the refugees at that time were from Biak Island in Indonesia and had been seriously abused by the Indonesian military.

I am disgusted with what the PNG police and defence force did back in February to their Melanesian brothers and sisters.

PNG should remember that "every dog has its day". PNG has indicated it would help the "boat people" going into Australia. Do something about your own backyard.

Leonard Roka

These operations, what are they for? We are showing how cowardly we are.

We call ourselves Melanesians, yet we want to deny a fellow blood relative who is being relegated and denied his right of being a Melanesian by the Indonesians.

PNG should stand up for what is right for the Melanesian brotherhood. If the tiny Vanuatu can voice something for our brothers, then what is so hard, PNG?

PNG is the coward of Melanesia.That's why it is corrupt.

West Papuans must have freedom in PNG so that they keep up their fight for independence.

Phil Fitzpatrick

It was nationalism which led to WW1 and WW2 and thousands of other conflicts. Nationalism is a very destructive force.

Essentially, I think, it is something invoked by rich men trying to protect or increase their wealth and gullible rednecks who can't see they are being duped.

I've always felt slightly uneasy about the drive to unite PNG as one nation, not so much because of the ideal but because of the effects along the way.

Indonesia was a polyglot that was subjected to the whim of colonialists, just like PNG.

So was the Middle East; national borders there were drawn up very arbitrarily, and look at the problems there.

The poor buggers with TB in the Western Province are victims of nationalism as much as anything else.

Yuambari Haihuie

The fact that we have refugees on our shared islands because of borders drawn up by 18th century imperialists and enforced for the convenience of national identity sickens me.

Trevor Freestone.

Unfortunately nobody gives a damm about the poor people you portray in your film. I worked at Pagei School in the 1960's and the Australian Government posted a special Army Officer to Pagei to monitor the situation. He would interview the refugees then force them back over the border.

The only thing he seemed to do was declare Pagei as Classified and even the school was classified as secret. The Australian Government was wary of the Indonesians and was on the lookout for any attempt to move into PNG.

The stories he told me were more than horrifying but even though the Australian government knew about the atrocities that were occuring took no action.

The people wanted Independence at the same time their neighbours obtained theirs but the Indonesians refused to even discuss such a possibility.

Over the years I have written to the foreign ministers on both sides of the major parties and they have had to admit that Australia has known about the whole situation.

They have just said they knew about what was happening but what could they do; nothing. They have said that every time they go to Indonesia they do mention the human rights abuses that are occuring but they are unable to do more than that.

The UN is blind to the situation and has so many problems in the world to deal with they just don't give a damm about our neighbours in West Irian.

In 1966 my school children took me to Skotiaho a rufugee camp on the border and although we gave the refugees food they were very wary of my presence.

Their life was spent in avoiding both Indonesian patrols and Australian patrols and just camped on either side of the border depending on which side was currently safest.

No record is available of the thousands that have been killed mostly at the hands of the Indonesians. They are and have been desperate for somebody to take action to resolve their plight but nobody has put up their hand.

Nobody is prepared to challenge the Indonesians, nobody.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)