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Campaigning for a Free West Papua: Perspectives From an Exiled Activist

West Papuan students rallying for their rights. Image from Facebook of Free West Papua.

West Papuan students rallying for their rights. Image from Facebook of Free West Papua.

Despite Indonesia's claims that it has implemented reforms in annexed West Papua and that abuses against Papuans are a thing of the past, there is little evidence of substantial improvement in the situation.

West Papua is a province of Indonesia, but there is a movement that seeks to make it an independent state. Indonesia is accused of occupying the territory since the 1960s. Activists have also decried the repressive rule of Indonesia in West Papua, including its brutal suppression of the independence campaign.

As reported by East Timor and Indonesia Action Network last December, there has been an increase of Indonesian armed personnel in West Papua, which is already the most militarized region in Indonesia.

Violent clashes between some Indonesian armed forces in West Papua and the local population have intensified in recent years. Last December, the police was accused of killing young protesters.

Paul Inggamer, 43, an activist and a consular assistant of the Vanuatu Consulate in Hague, shares with Global Voices his thoughts about the situation in West Papua and his hopes for his ancestral land.

Global Voices (GV): How did you become involved in the independence struggle of West Papua?

Inggamer: It was after my first visit to my homeland in 1998 that things started to get clear for me. Seeing, experiencing the real life in West Papua. After going to West Papua in 1998, something broke inside. That trip changed my whole perspective. Seeing is believing. I saw my family, I saw my people, their struggle, their life.

GV: How long did you stay in West Papua?

Inggamer: I lived in West Papua from April 2004 till July 2008. I was deported (by the Indonesian authorities) and declared persona non grata. Indonesian intelligence observed me at various political gatherings, one of which was at the Kongres National in 2006. By that time I worked as a media consultant for Metro Papua TV.

GV: What challenges did you face when you were living in West Papua?

Inggamer: People saw me as a bule (“foreigner” in Bahasa Indonesia). Saya orang Papua asli. (I am an indigenous Papuan). Not a foreigner. I own a stretch of land on Auki island (Padaido Islands) near Biak. I am a customary land owner, but to Indonesians I am a bule.

GV: Is it true that there are now more Indonesians coming to West Papua. And that Papuans are becoming a minority. What are your thoughts on this?

Inggamer: Yes. That is true. Every week there are PELNI ships arriving in Sorong, Manokwari, Nabire, Biak and Jayapura with thousands of migrants from Java.

GV: From what I read on social media and the news, West Papuans are disappointed with past presidents. What do you think of the new head of state, President Joko Widodo? Do you expect the see the protection of human rights and promotion of justice under the new government?

Inggamer: Joko is Suhartoism without Suharto. [Suharto was Indonesia's leader and dictator who ruled for three decades until he was ousted from power in 1998]. Joko is a puppet. The military still and will always dictate.

GV: What is the next action of the West Papua independence campaign?

Inggamer: The United Liberation Movement West Papua will submit an application for FULL membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). Indonesia is just an observer in this body. If West Papua gets full membership like FLNKS (Kanak Independence Movement, New Caledonia) then the whole situation, the whole spectrum changes.

The next step after the MSG will be the United Nations.

GV: Do you receive support from other countries or governments in the region?

Inggamer: Regional support is important. Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji are on the side of Indonesia but things are changing in PNG. The people of PNG are more aware about the threat that is Indonesia.

Vanuatu has been the only country in the world which gives West Papua a political platform and support. The Vanuatu Support is a bill that was unanimously adopted by Vanuatu parliament in 2010. It was derived from a peoples petition tabled in parliament. Its purpose was to express Vanuatu's recognition of West Papua's independence from Indonesia. And to commit Vanuatu to actively seek full membership for West Papua in the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Island Forum. The bill was supported by the then Prime Minister Edward Natapei and opposition leader Korman.

Inggamer (L) with West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda - image by Inggamer

Inggamer (L) with West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda – image by Inggamer

GV: What is the prospect of the campaign?

Inggammer: I believe in the power of unity. I know how divided Papuans were but now we are united and we fully use of Vanuatu as a platform for our struggle. Momentum is building. Step by step we will get what is needed. First the MSG. Next the UN. Freedom is at the end of the tunnel. Indonesia has tunnel vision. With Papuans being united there is light at the end of the tunnel.

GV: What about international pressure on Indonesia?

Inggamer: International reaction on West Papua has always been like this: Don't talk about massacres, human rights abuses, simply don't mention anything about West Papua to Jakarta. The world still supports Indonesia's annexation of West Papua. The question is how long. Wait what happens when we as united Papuans submit our application to the MSG. We believe in unity. Unity brings the people of Melanesia together. Together we are strong. Together as one for West Papua.

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