PAPUA New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has pushed for greater recognition of the people of West Papua, while also praising the strength of his nation’s relationship with Indonesia.
“After many years of bilateral engagement, ours is a relationship where we can express our views in an open and honest dialogue,” he said.
Mr O’Neill caught the attention of world media in his speech to the 2015 National Leaders Summit in February, while reflecting on the nation’s growing influence in the Pacific.
“Sometimes we forgot our family, our brothers and sisters, especially those in West Papua,” he told delegates.
“I think as a country the time has come for us to speak about oppression our people. Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on social media and yet we take no notice.”
“We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded.”
“Again, Papua New Guinea, as a regional leader, we must lead these discussions with our friends in a mature and engaging manner,” he said.
Mr O’Neill later clarified that his concerns for West Papuans were related to human rights, rather of issues of sovereignty.
While PNG does not support the claims of West Papuan separatists, Mr O’Neill nonetheless expressed a desire for Indonesia to support the separate application of its Papua provinces for membership to the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).
Indonesia has observer status on the MSG, an intergovernmental organisation comprising Fiji, PNG, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and representatives of the Kanak Liberation Movement from New Caledonia.
“This important sub-regional group is the ideal forum to foster greater people-to-people relationships between Melanesians,” Mr O’Neill said.
Papua New Guinea would work to continue the dialogue with Indonesia surrounding West Papua that had been started during the term of former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Mr O’Neill added that the two nations were discussing border matters and were considering visa arrangements for officials which he said would enhance ongoing dialogue and cooperation between the two countries.
“There are also tremendous opportunities to expand direct trade, and to cooperate and share technical information in sectors where we have common interest such as agriculture, marine resources and mining,” he said.
“We would also like to see more Indonesian vessels utilising the expanded Lae Port as a hub to reach Pacific island nations.”