On Monday (7/1), Natalie Whiting from Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) made questionable claim that Papua New Guinea (PNG) is now supporting West Papuan independence, and that a referendum is expected to happen in the middle of the year. She made a statement in a 4-minute long voice report published by ABC.
She also mentioned that the armed separatist group (known under the name “Free West Papua”) was “accused” of killing 28 construction workers in Nduga, about a month ago (2/12). The statement was highly problematic. They’re not “accused”; they’re guilty.
Sebby Sambom, a spokesperson of the West Papuan armed separatist criminal group, proudly stated that his group was responsible for the attack. Sambom confirmed his action through telephone call with online media tirto.id on (5/12/2018). The murder was carried out by ambush, where 50 members of the criminal group attacked the camp of the construction workers.
The 30 workers were outnumbered, unarmed and had no way to fight back, as the separatist criminals were carrying assault rifles. They cold-bloodedly gunned down 28 of the workers, while 3 of them were lucky enough to have escaped. What Natalie Whiting has said is not only factually incorrect, but also degrading towards the lives of 28 civilian victims.
The Rumor of Support for Referendum
The calls for a fresh vote are coming from a few of PNG citizens and government officials, with a coalition member (Powes Parkop) saying he will be “pushing for a change in PNG’s policy on West Papua”. In the recent past, Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato of Papua New Guinea himself have made multiple statements, reaffirming its position in recognizing Indonesian sovereignty over Papua and West Papua Provinces.
In July 2018, Rimbink Pato assured the world that PNG supports the sovereignty of Indonesia in West Papua. In another occasion, PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill made a comment that Pacific countries should discuss the issue of West Papua in a fair way, at the UN forum.
The interaction between PNG and Indonesia has somewhat proven that an ally does not really have to deny that there is still a lot to be improved with Indonesia’s governance in Papua. However, instead of being a heckler just like Vanuatu did, PNG kept its cool and tried to bring up a healthy discussion on human rights issues.
The difference between Indonesia and other countries on West Papua is that Indonesia upholds the long-term interest of Papuan people, while other countries are, naturally, projecting their influence on West Papua in accordance to each of their own perspective and political interest.
Powes Parkop’s Ambition and West Papua Issue
Realistically one of a few people considerable for PNG’s 2022 election, it is crucial for Powes Parkop to nurture his electability by standing off against the image of current prime minister, Peter O’Neill. In anticipation to the possibility that O’Neill’s popularity might fall in the coming years, opposing his policies will make people see Parkop as a “candidate of hope” when replacing O’Neill. One of those policies is PNG’s foreign policy towards West Papua issue.
Garnering support and sympathy of the voters is not a simple matter, and one of the easier tactic is by using identity politics. Parkop exploits West Papua as one of his main issue, to gain votes from new voters who are interested in international politics and have strong idea of Melanesian identity.
The solidarity of Melanesian people between Pacific countries is a simple, compelling idea to be sold: there is no need to display concrete, actual analysis. Parkop simply has to show that West Papuans are ‘our brothers’, and ‘they look different than Indonesians’, and now he has the public attention.