The Foreign Minister of Vanuatu, Ralph Regenvanu, paid a visit to Westminster during his trip to United Kingdom, (10/10). He visited the headquarter of Labour Party, the opposition party led by Jeremy Corbyn. In his Facebook post, Regenvanu showed himself posing with Corbyn and Benny Wenda, the leader of United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
Vanuatu has been the strongest proponent of the Free West Papua movement, along with Nauru, Tuvalu, and others.
Recently, there has been a change in the dynamics of West Papuan issue between Pacific island countries, with Solomon Islands supporting the sovereignty of Indonesian government in West Papua. Indonesia was concerned of Vanuatu’s approach at the United Nations General Assembly, where not only had Vanuatu meddled with Indonesia’s domestic affair, but also sounded a misleading narrative by openly supporting ULMWP.
Back in August 2013, Indonesia has made an offer for the ministers of Melanesian Spearhead Group members (where Indonesia, Vanuatu, and other countries with Melanesian population gather), where eventually the MSG delegation fulfilled the invitation, with the exception of Vanuatu. When interviewed in 2016, Octovianus Mote, Secretary General of ULMWP, explained that Vanuatu was suspicious if Indonesia’s invitation would have ended in manipulation of facts on the field.
Ralph Regenvanu’s Misconception of Referendum
Regenvanu did pledge to push a resolution at the 2018 United Nations General Assembly, calling for referendum supervision by the UN, in West Papua1Facebook post of West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (2018). However, his idea had a major flaw. Referendums supervised by the United Nations, such as the successful Algerian independence in 1962, or the recently adopted resolution on Crimea (led to its integrity with Russian Federation), all have one thing in common: that the regions which demanded independence have opened lengthy, peaceful talks with its host government. In the case of ULMWP, the sporadic violence carried out by the armed separatists is not showing any good will. During the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid (1999-2001), the separatists were given a chance to held a congress, and they have not shown any sign of cooperation ever since2Mote, Octovianus in an interview with Coen Pontoh, “Octovianus Mote: Pemerintah Indonesia itu Penjajah Bagi Orang Papua”, 2018.
Up to this day, the ULMWP has not gained any spotlight from the UN to talk about West Papua. It is understandable that as long as Indonesian government is not given any chance in their monologue, the ULMWP is not getting anything as well.
The Credibility of Benny Wenda’s ‘Leadership’
Ralph Regenvanu, both by actions and statements, has shown that him, as a representative of Vanuatu, is more keen to communicate with ULMWP than the Indonesian government. This, is also a rather serious error: the Indonesian government is still very much a legitimate and recognised authority in the United Nations assemblies.
Furthermore, the pseudo-leadership presented by Benny Wenda is also problematic at best (see also: Benny Wenda’s questionable remarks) . Only because he posed in photos with notable political leaders in various countries, does not mean that he is politically legitimate as a leader of West Papua. He and his group have involved in more violent acts than peaceful ones. Campaigns consisting of socio-economic development programs, as expected from any serious political contestant, is virtually non-existent. Albeit he remains a public figure in the eyes of some West Papuans, Wenda has never been to Papua for the last 16 years, since he has been a fugitive, wanted for starting an accident in 2002 where a policeman died. As for Vanuatu, advocating such separatist interest group is inadvisable. Regenvanu, however, seemed to be firm on his belief in Benny Wenda and the ULMWP propaganda.
The British Political Interest in Papua
Benny Wenda was granted asylum by the British government ever since he fled Papua. The British political agenda on West Papua is torn within partisan views in the UK. The government has been giving Indonesian military personnel in Papua continuous training in facing OPM separatist militants, while the Labour Party and its supporters generally accepts ULMWP as the representation of West Papuan people. Seeing the presence of Rio Tinto (a British mining company) and $100 billions worth of natural resources potential in West Papua, it is hard to see that UK and Vanuatu are not having any interest. Along with the Labour Party of the UK, other entities who have been supporting the separatist movement can be easily seen to benefit from any chance of West Papuan independence.
https://indoprogress .com/2016/09/octovianus-mote-pemerintah-indonesia-itu-penjajah-bagi-orang-papua/, 2018.
https://www.facebook .com/WPNCL/photos/a.810410505674221/2014760531905873/?type=3&__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARDxt17jCScCl3j3AJHpngk0Nk5-HKgwIMVHsHfZu5_yKIvwXQj5kXiivD8GEjZ9fS3WaBZJdM6kcgrRbZlXWoEZRmkPg2nK_yoEk9V0NvHz0Lnx5H0PpO8froLyhkAyVLtxCUelsIkEWcUilZGSNuieTxhj0Bv5AyocN9LpDoQyVEW9APH-WJCs1RR5WmrKsbaOxQ2r5Dg&__tn__=-R, 2018.