PNG: Indonesian border risks becoming 'flashpoint', warns Post-Courier
Sunday, February 3, 2013
PORT MORESBY (PNG Post-Courier / Pacific Media Watch): Papua New Guinea’s inability to man its 760km land border with Indonesia and increasing tension triggered by cross-border raids from Papua and lack of economic opportunities could make the area a flashpoint, the PNG Post-Courier reports.
Wutung villagers in the West Sepik Province and locals from the Morehead local level government area in the Western Province have expressed concern at the lack of intervention by the relevant PNG government agencies to address their problems, the newspaper said in a front-page report in its weekend edition.
Three weeks ago, Wutung villagers forcefully pulled down the Indonesian flag in protest against Indonesia, compelling Waigani to dispatch a team of officials led by the PNG Foreign Affairs Department to the border region.
The lack of income earning opportunities in West Sepik and the allegations that the popular Indonesian-owned Bartas market was built on the PNG side of the international border appear to be key factors that threaten to trigger hostilities.
“We are getting a little money from the trading at the border but it is just about 5 percent and it would be nice if we can capture at least 30 percent of it,” said Patrick Muliale, the Wutung Onne Bewani local level government president.
In the south in Western province’s Morehead District, increasing raids by Javanese poachers on wildlife in the world-famous Bensbach conservation area led to the PNG government sending an investigation team led by the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF).
It is understood the team has prepared a confidential report and submitted it to the Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc for the PNG government’s consideration.
Former PNGDF commander, Major-General Jerry Singirok (retired), subtly alluded to the investigation team’s findings when he made reference to the Indonesian military’s building of a permanent Forward Operations Base (FOB) at the Torasi River in PNG territory.
“This is indeed a major international incident and a serious border infringement that requires an immediate joint inspection and a diplomatic protest by PNG to Jakarta. But if PNG is not satisfied, it has the option to refer the matter to the United Nations Assembly for resolution.
"But then again, it is unlikely that PNG will take this option,” said the retired army commander.
The former PNG Customs Commissioner and now politician, Oro Governor Garry Juffa, also warned that the heavy presence of Indonesian government officials including army paratroopers made the border region vulnerable to conflict.
“The infrastructure includes a military base, office and staff accommodation for all officials and a market with a growing informal support base of civilians of 300 to 400 Javanese nationals, who will be immediately armed and ready to go into action should all hell break loose,” he said.
But Indonesian government officials, while acknowledging and regretting the Wutung skirmish three weeks ago, told the Post-Courier that they were ready to assist PNG grow its border area and the recent incidents warranted the need for PNG to continue to revise its contingency plans.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, when asked by the Post-Courier to comment on the issue, appeared unperturbed by the growing tensions and said his government would work with Indonesia to build PNG’s border infrastructure.
“They have offered to have their construction companies and their facilities across the border to help build our facilities on this side,” he said.
The weekend edition of the Post-Courier published a seven-page "PNG-Indonesia border focus" special report compiled and led by the newspaper's award winning reporter Haiveta Kivia and other reporters. It also includes an editorial and commentaries by the former PNGDF commander Major General Jerry Singirok (retired) and former PNG Customs Commissioner-turned-politician Gary Juffa.
GET INDONS TO ROUND TABLE - Editorial opinion of the Post-Courier, 1 February 2013
Today the Post-Courier brings you seven pages of our special report “PNG-Indonesia border in focus”.
The report zooms in the plight of ordinary Papua New Guineans who live along that imaginary 760-kilometre line and highlights the neglect by successive Papua New Guinea (PNG) governments to their welfare and overall security.
We can imagine that living in that part of PNG will always have its challenges, especially from 1963 when Indonesia took control of the western half of New Guinea in controversial circumstances, which then led to conflict which continues to this very day. In the ensuing years thousands of West Papuans fled the Indonesian territory, making PNG their home and settling down with their families. Villagers in PNG’s West Sepik and Western provinces often became sandwiched in the clashes between the opposing sides.
Successive PNG governments since the country’s independence from Australia in 1975 have recognized the sovereign rights of Indonesia over West Papua, maybe wary of our bigger neighbour and the potential consequences it could have on our own security as a nation. However, as a neighbour we have also paid the price over the years with border incursions, unauthorised use of our airspace and now raids into our territory by criminal Javanese poachers.
Last month the O’Neill Government sent a team lead by the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) to investigate reports of the Indonesian military setting up a base in Western province’s Morehead district. While we are yet to know the details of that confidential report we have been advised by contacts within government that the Indonesians were caught red-handed.
Consequently we agree with the former PNGDF commander, Major General Jerry Singirok (retired), for a diplomatic protest to be lodged with Jakarta.
“This is indeed a major international incident and a serious border infringement that requires an immediate joint inspection and a diplomatic protest by PNG to Jakarta. But if PNG is not satisfied, it has the option to refer the matter to the United Nations Assembly for resolution. But then again, it is unlikely that PNG will take this option,” said the retired army commander.
The former PNG Customs Commissioner Gary Juffa, now the governor for Oro, has also warned of conflict within the border region if the O’Neill government does not give priority to effective border management.
Ironically, PNG-Indonesia relations are at a critical juncture with our neighbors asking for us to hand over wanted fugitive Djoko Tjandra aka ‘Joe Chan’. So are we able to make a trade-off with Indonesia for more recognition of our territorial rights?
We understand the policy of diplomacy and the need to maintain regional stability and avoid conflict with our more powerful neighbor, it was obvious from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s response to our questions that that is the overall objective – hence the welcoming of the offer from Indonesia to build our border infrastructure.
But then the key questions we as Papua New Guineans, especially those of us who live along that porous international border, continue to ask is at what cost to our lives and that of our families? It is time to get the Indonesians to the table to talk about our territorial rights and the need for them to respect as a nation and a people.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.