Tuesday, November 3, 2015

United for Freedom

Off the Wall for 17/12/14

Mauri! I am sitting on the verandah of the Divisional Superintendent of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s Rabi Division. I have just conducted morning devotion with the community in the Emanuera Maneaba or hall. I am here on the island with the President-elect and General Secretary of the Methodist Church for the Induction of the new Rabi Division Superintendent Minister. As I write, the sun’s rays are peeking out from behind the clouds and the beauty of the sky is reflected in the calm sea below. The 15th of December is a special day for the people of Rabi as it marks the anniversary of the arrival of a small group (300-500) Banabans on the ship Triona, seeking refuge from the devastation caused by phosphate mining on Banaba or Ocean Island in 1945. This morning I will lead the devotion at the celebrations, while Rev. Tevita Banivanua will be the chief guest.

I will share more on my Rabi experience and lessons learned next week. This week I would like to reflect on another historic event that took place earlier this month. In a gathering of West Papuan leaders in Vanuatu, different factions of the independence movement have united to form a new body called the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

According to newly appointed  ULMWP spokesperson, Benny Wenda, this new organisation unites the three main organisations who have long struggled for independence in their own way.

“By coming together to present a united front, this allows us to re-submit a fresh application for membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) as well as countering Indonesian claims that the West Papuan groups are divided. The negotiations and kastom ceremonies attended by leaders of all the major groups and observed by the chiefs, churches and the government of Vanuatu demonstrates that now we West Papuans are united in one group and one struggle.”

As discussions went late into the night and with pressure mounting against them from outside influences, for whom the ULMWP is a threat to their designs for West Papua, delegates locked themselves until consensus was reached through which they can be allowed member status into the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), a regional body that supports the interests of Melanesians. The main speculation regarding this would be due to the fact that West Papua is not a sovereign state so it cannot be represented in an organization formed by Melanesian sovereign states.

There are several separatist factions claiming to fight for West Papua’s right to self-determination. This conference aims to bring these factions together to formulate a common ground on which they can move into the MSG as full-time members.

According to Pacific Media Watch, these restrictions were a precautionary measure to avoid Indonesian spies infiltrating the meetings.

The various groups represented in the closed-door meetings are here to find common grounds on
Indonesia, West Papua’s current colonizer, has been granted “observer” status in the MSG while West Papuans have so far been denied representation.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has threatened to cut all diplomatic ties to Vanuatu for meddling in its internal affairs. Radio New Zealand reported that Jakarta’s Acting Ambassador to Vanuatu, Imron Cotan has indicated that there could be war.

“Indonesia is ready to go to war in order to maintain Papua within our territory so we are indeed serious about Papua. Nobody I believe should take it lightly. Indonesia will be more than prepared to freeze anything if our sovereignty over Papua is questioned. That is definitely a no go in Indonesia.”

Vanuatu, however, is adamant with its stand to support West Papua. It has always been a staunch supporter of the “Free West Papua” movement and has championed the cause for self-determination for years.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua will now lead a
unified effort for West Papua to have one voice in the international arena, beginning with an application for membership status in the MSG in 2015.

Leaders of the Federal Republic of West Papua, the West Papua National Parliament and West Papua National Coalition for Liberation
signed an agreement on December 6 to form the ULPM.

Each group will maintain independent status within West Papua but its members will now work together with a common goal of self-determination.

The agreement was made possible through the efforts of the Vanuatu government, its chiefs, churches and a group of Kanaky (New Caledonian) leaders.

Talks were facilitate by the Pacific Conference of Churches in Port Vila despite attempts by Indonesia to stop the meeting.

The secretariat of the unified group will be Benny Wenda of the KNPB, Jacob Rumbiak and Octavanus Mote of the NFRPB, Leonie Tanggahma and Rex Rumakiek of the WPNCL.

Mote has been appointed General Secretary.

Members of the new coalition acknowledged the role each group played in the liberation struggle.

PCC General Secretary, Reverend Francois Pihaatae, sais the unified international voice did not seek to merge the component organisations into a single entity.

"We recognize the integral role that each one plays even as the various leaders seek to build collaboration among themselves." Rev Pihaatae said.

"The MSG wanted a unified voice from West Papua before considering their application for membership and that unity has been achieved.

"We call upon the MSG member governments to listen to the will of West Papua's people and recognise their efforts and give due consideration to their application when it is made in the new year."

This decades-old struggle has taken a great leap forward. As it builds momentum, with support from human rights activists, churches – such as Pacific Conference of Churches, Fiji Council of Churches members – and other groups and ordinary human beings lending their voices to the cry for West Papua’s self-determination, the question is: for how long will this cry remain unheard?

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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