AIRI INGRAM & JASON MACLEOD | Pacific Scoop
Travel throughout Papua New Guinea and you will often hear people say that West Papua and Papua New Guinea is wanpela graun – one land – and that West Papuans on the other side of the border are family and kin.
In the Solomon Islands, Kanaky, Fiji and especially Vanuatu, people will tell you that ‘Melanesia is not free until West Papua is free’. This was the promise that the late Father Walter Lini, Vanuatu’s first prime minister made.
Ordinary people in this part of the Pacific are painfully aware that the West Papuan people continue to live under the gun. It is the politicians in Melanesia who have been slow to take up the cause.
But that may be changing.
Earlier this month, Powes Parkop, Governor of PNG’s National Capital District, nailed his colours firmly to the mast.
In front of a crowd of 3,000 people, Governor Parkop insisted “there is no historical, legal, religious, or moral justification for Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua”.
Welcoming West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda, who was in PNG as part of a global tour, the governor said that while he was in PNG “no one will arrest you, no one will stop you, and you can feel free to say what you want to say”.
These are basic rights denied to West Papuans who continue to be arrested, tortured and killed simply because of the colour of their skin.
Governor Parkop, who is a member of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua, which now has representatives in 56 countries, went on to formally launch the free West Papua Campaign.
He promised to open an office, fly the Morning Star flag from City Hall and pledged his support for a Melanesian tour of musicians for a free West Papua.
Governor Parkop is not a lone voice in Melanesia calling for change.
Last year, prime minister Peter O’Neill broke with tradition and publicly admonished the Indonesian government’s response to ongoing state violence, human rights violations and failure of governance in West Papua.
O’Neill said he would raise human rights concerns in the troubled territory with the Indonesian government.
Now Governor Parkop wants to accompany the prime minister on his visits to Indonesia “to present his idea to Indonesia on how to solve West Papuan conflict once and for all.”
PNG commentator Emmanuel Narakobi remarked on his blog that Parkop’s multi-pronged proposal for mobilising public opinion “is perhaps the first time I’ve heard an actual plan on how to tackle this issue”.
On talk back radio, Governor Parkop accused Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr of not taking the issue of West Papua seriously, of “sweeping it under the carpet.”
In Australia, Bob Carr may be trying to pour cold water on growing public support for a free West Papua, but in Melanesia the tide is moving in the opposite direction.
Jason MacLeod teaches and researches at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Airi Ingram is a Papuan musician and activist