Port Villa, Jubi – “We are all Melanesian,” said Deputy Prime Minister Joe Natuman. “We are family. We regard it as an obligation to help one another.”
Mr Natuman recounted the history of West Papua from post-WWII days, and remarked at the end that the struggle for independence was not only a struggle against colonialism, but a struggle against corporate and commercial interests too.
“It’s not just Sukarno and Suharto, it’s also American big business that’s involved,” Mr Natuman said. “We’re not just fighting colonial powers. It’s big business too.”
This is the first time a senior figure in the Vanuatu government has publicly criticised the USA and its mining interests in relation to the issue of West Papuan independence.
The nation’s sense of duty in helping to make all of Melanesia free was made manifest yesterday when the government of Vanuatu officially transferred the historic Crow’s Nest building to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
The building will be shared with local creative collective Further Arts. Mr Natuman is a lifelong supporter of West Papuan independence.
He was the first speaker in the ceremony marking the official opening of the West Papuan mission in Vanuatu.
He was joined by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu, Parliamentary Secretaries Johnny Koanapo and Andrew Napuat, as well as the President of the Malvatumauri, the head of the Vanuatu Christian Council and dozens of Vanuatu-based independence activists.
This week also marks the annual conclave of the ULMWP leadership, along with senior militants as well.
Internationally known figures Octovianus Mote, Benny Wenda and several other independence leaders were also present. Some declined to be identified or photographed due to fear of retaliation by Indonesian authorities or their proxies.
The day was nonetheless a happy one, and a few drops of rain were insufficient to quench the spirits of a movement that, for the first time in two generations, finally has a place to call home.
Endorsing ULMWP Unity
“In order to maintain this level of engagement I ask that the United Liberation Movement of West Papua ensure there is a strong coordination of all the international activities.
“I call for unity of resolve and action. Governments in the region are increasingly trying to pull together their political efforts to rally for justice in West Papua.
“NGOs and Churches are also working hard together to ensure our actions are coordinated. Therefore the ULMWP as an organisation must do likewise. It must work in unison. There should be no place for infighting between us Government and NGOs.”
Prime Minister Charlot Salwai made the statement to encourage West Papuan delegates attending their week-long ULMWP (United Liberation Movement for West Papua) Committee Summit in the Chiefs Nakamal few days ago.
West Papua Liberation Army soldiers in uniform saluted the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Joe Natuman, Parliamentary Secretary for Decolonisation and MP for Tanna, Johnny Koanapo, along with other dignitaries.
The Prime Minister began by paying tribute to all freedom fighters in Melanesia.
Colonisers, he said, settled in Melanesia to exploit the abundant natural resources of the indigenous landowners.
While some colonisers had been forced to leave, he said, “Some are still finding it difficult to recognise that it is time to now respect the needs of others and decolonise in the 21st Century.
“So this is one of the challenges we are faced with.”
The Prime Minister asked ULMWP to remain united
“Work as brothers and comrades. You all need the faith, efforts and the skills of your fellow brothers and sisters in order that your efforts can have maximum impact,” he said.
“I want to assure you that Vanuatu maintains a strong support to the people of West Papua. This is a position of the people in our communities, nakamals and churches all over the country.”
But on the other hand, the ULMWP needs a cohesive team that must work with one objective to ensure that they do everything necessary to defend the rights of the indigenous people in West Papua. They all need to be pulling in one direction.
Secondly, he said the message of West Papuan struggle has crossed the oceans and continents and is now spreading all over the world.
Thirdly, he said in the Pacific the support of the rights of the West Papuans is growing.
It began with one country – Vanuatu which was recently joined by the Solomons.
“Today we are glad that the number has now increased to seven members known as the Pacific Islands Coalition of West Papua (PICWP).
“I commend ULMWP through Dr. Octo Mote and Mr. Benny Wenda for all the work you are doing,” Salwai said.
“I want to stress also that it is worth noting that the number of countries supporting the cause of West Papua internationally is increasing.
“This is a positive sign indicating that knowledge about the plight of the people of West Papua can no longer be concealed. It must come to light.”
Washington-based Secretary General of ULMWP, Octo Mote thanked both present and past Governments for standing up for West Papua.
“From this Nakamal, this spirit house of your ancestors, including (late) Father Walter Lini, founder of this nation, and (late) Prime Minister Edward Natapei, who led us in prayer at the unification of our organisations, and others whose names are many, we started on an extraordinary journey three years ago, that has taken us around the world and to the hall of the United Nations General Assembly for the first time in decades,” the Secretary General began.
He said with the support of the Vanuatu Government, the Solomons (former) Prime Minister and MSG chair Manasseh Sogavare led the creation of the seven-country Pacific Island Coalition for West Papua, PICWP. “PICWP then lifted the cause of West Papua beyond Melanesia and even the Pacific, to become, in the last year and half, a global issue. All PICWP countries spoke at the UN General Assembly and then brought West Papua to the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, the ACP”, he said. I
“In that forum, we now have almost unanimous support from the Caribbean and African countries. With the help of your representative and those of the other PACWP countries, we have been travelling to the Capitals of the Caribbean and Africa. It was the newly independent countries of those two regions, whose support almost fifty years ago at the United Nations, prevented that body from endorsing the shameful, sham Act of so-called free choice.
“We look forward with the greatest pleasure to working with you in the coming months to bring the cause of West Papua to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and finally to the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for the self-determination of our long suffering people.”(Daily Post Vanuatu/Zely)