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West Papuan activists lobbying Pacific leaders

November 15, 2013

While they are keenly awaiting the decision on their membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), West Papua activists are travelling the Pacific lobbying countries to support their bid. One such activist is exiled investigative journalist Octovanius Mote, who has just returned to his adopted home in Washington D.C in the United States last month, after island hopping the Melanesian states. He is an activist and lobbyist in the world’s greatest democracy.

However, like the torrid history of his country under Indonesia and the failures they have suffered at the hands of the United States, United Nations and their closest neighbours Papua New Guinea in securing autonomy, Mote is taking one stride at a time. Mote said after 40 years of Indonesian rule, joining a group like MSG would enhance their endeavours for independence. In 1961, he said 1025 of his kinsmen were selected by the Indonesians when the United Nations gave West Papuans a chance to determine its own destiny in what is known as the ‘Act of Free Choice’. However, Mote said their leaders were shown footage of how they (Indonesia) tortured the people. “The obvious result of that was they voted for Indonesian rule and we became a province of Indonesia,” he told ISLANDS BUSINESS. “Under these circumstances, we inherited this government and these issues are well documented and not made up. Since then, he and freedom members of the Free Papua Movement have been calling on the international community to give them recognition.

Mote is also recognised for his part in trying to address self-determination. As a former bureau chief of Kompas newspaper in West Papua, he served as a rapporteur for a national dialogue on the issue in 1999 between then Indonesian President Habibie, who had claimed the reformists tag, and West Papuan community leaders. However, his (Habibie’s) participation came on the condition that the issue of independence was not to be discussed. However, the West Papuan leaders presented their petition and Mote and four other organisers of the meeting found themselves blacklisted on charges (allegedly trumped up) of buying arms. Habibie postponed a decision on the autonomy petition. Fortunately, Mote was already on his way out of Indonesia for the United States as part of a United States Information Agency Visitors programme. It was the last he was to see of his homeland. In exile, Mote continues to cry for the support of his eastern cousins and has seen a change in heart in various Melanesian governments. “I met with support groups in Fiji to basically get updated on what is the progress on our application,” he said. He says he is encouraged by the support shown. “So for that we really would like to thank all the Melanesian leaders for being united on this after 50 years of Indonesian rule.” Mote was also enthusiastic about the response from West Papua’s closest neighbour Papua New Guinea who in the past tended to side with Indonesia. Former Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, a founding member of the MSG, said West Papua should engage with Melanesian society because culturally they (West Papuans) are Melanesians. “We don’t see any MSG leader opposing our right for self determination and our opposition to crimes against humanity in West Papua,” Mote said. He said they were also keen to see MSG leaders visiting West Papua after they visit Indonesia—an invitation extended to MSG Foreign Affairs leaders by Jakarta and accepted this year during the MSG summit in Noumea in June.

However, he echoed fears of his kinsmen that once the MSG foreign ministers arrive in Jakarta, Indonesia could stop them from entering West Papua based on security risks. “If the visit does happen, it will be an historic one because many years ago people were not allowed to visit us particularly journalists, human rights workers and advocates and our people definitely will not harm their wantoks,” Mote said. “For journalists who get accreditation to work in West Papua, they would have to apply for special permission and when they do get there, they are assisted by Indonesian security personnel.” Mote said he visited Papua New Guinea in August and met with cabinet members asking them about their position over West Papua’s self determination. “They told me they don’t oppose our right but since being directly on the border with Indonesia they have to look for a way where they can maintain good relations with Indonesia. “So I don’t see them having a formula on how to address our situation. “But I definitely have seen a different attitude from them concerning our struggles.” From PNG, Mote went on to Port Vila where the indigenous West Papuans have the greatest ally. Mote said it was former Vanuatu Prime Minister Father Walter Lini who said if there remained a Melanesian country still colonised, then Vanuatu is not free. The current Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil has not changed that stance and Vanuatu is regarded the most active government in the fight for West Papuan struggle. But Mote is concerned about how the Indonesian Government has started to woo Melanesian leaders individually, particularly Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo who visited Indonesia in September

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