A pendulum plays a well-known rhythm
The Panguna Mine

Guns and Viagra at the Wutung border

Sil Bolkin at the Indonesian borderBY KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN

THE PNG INDONESIA BORDER is a long stretch of land from the tip of Sandaun Province right down through Western Province and almost to Australia. Villages can be spotted in pockets along both sides of the border. The largest and most used entry point from either Papua New Guinea or Indonesia is the border at Wutung.

The PNG side of the border at Wutung is filthy with mountains of empty plastics, cans, and containers that are sprayed with betel nut stains. A lone colourless building houses the PNG customs office. Visitors to the Wutung border find shelters under trees or huts that fry bananas, lamb flaps and sausages. Visitors must answer the call of nature in the forests nearby.

A big tall monument which stands on the Indonesian side dwarfs a short and small one on the PNG side near Bougainville Bay. The Indonesian monument proudly flies the Indonesian flag above a mountain forest which seems to remind PNG not to muddle around with Indonesia.

As you look into PNG from the Indonesian side you see the fearfully scribbled inscription “Jesus Christ is Lord over this land”. The eagle in the Indonesian sculpture, looking like Uncle Sam, stares fiercely down on the inscription.

The Indonesian side of the no man’s land is called Batas and is well polished with pavement, four lanes for cars and properly fenced. All the different Indonesian government departments like Customs and Foreign affairs, Defence, Trade, etc. are housed within well designed Asian-style buildings.

Their soldiers are well polished with smart military attire and guns, unlike the mixture of pot- bellied and betel nut stained soldiers wondering around individually showing no signs of camaraderie and preparedness on the PNG side.

A kilometre into the Indonesian side is the famous Gordon Market-type stalls called Batas. Batas is a ghetto that gives the impression of a new refugee camp. In Batas they sell all sorts of Asian made goods, clothing, electronic equipment, Harley Davidson motorbikes and even sex appetisers like Viagra, Spanish fly, King Cobra, etc.

A digital camera sold in Papua New Guinea for K999 is only K300 in Batas. A Toshiba laptop is only K800 in Batas whilst in Port Moresby it is K4,000 plus.

The official days for Papua New Guineans to go shopping in Batas are Tuesdays and Thursdays but PNG and Indonesian authorities at the border both allow Papua New Guineans to shop at any time of the week as well. People rarely shop in Vanimo.

Most forest owners, some public servants and even visitors travel to Batas or Jayapura to do their shopping for goods as well as for sex. Therefore there much fewer super markets and stores in Vanimo town and these close at around 4 pm.

The PNG government loses millions on import duty and PNG entrepreneurs in Vanimo have lost business opportunities as well with the competition from Batas and Jayapura.

Vanimo market does not have the mountains of garden crops we see in Port Moresby, Goroka or the Mt Hagen markets. The timber royalty money it seems has made people lose their gardening skills.

We went shopping on Friday and Saturday last week.  Yes, PNG kina is spent in Batas on the Indonesian side of the border and it is estimated that half a million untaxed kina is going to Indonesia via Batas per week.

We were told that Indonesian soldiers sell guns to Papua New Guineans for up-front cash payment.  Asian and West Papuan sex workers prey on innocent PNG men who cross the border to Batas or Jayapura to shop. All the goods and fees for sex are very cheap.

The distance from Batas to Jayapura is just the same as from Batas to Vanimo so Papua New Guineans can travel with locals from the border area to Jayapura without any proper visas.

Caveat! The PNG government has to overhaul the facilities at Wutung and screen people moving in and out of Wutung smuggling and escaping import duties.

Otherwise, PNG will keep losing economically and will also be filled to the brim with imported social ills that include HIV as part of the package.

Comments

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Theo Iwandi

Very true. Lack security protection, anyway let's make some business.

Jamie Namorong

It’s an ongoing issue, lack of security presence in the border areas. [Via Twitter]

Mrs Barbara Short

Thanks Sil for this very observant report of the goings on at the Wutung border.

The experience of another culture, in this case, Indonesian, has prompted you to analyse the culture from which you come, which is a good thing.

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