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Papua New Guinea

Support for West Papuan independence grows

There has been an escalation in support for West Papua as both locals and supporters across the Pacific celebrated the raising of its morning star flag to commemorate 60 years since it was first raised in 1961.

Watched on by the Indonesian military, the West Papuan resistance movement made their voice heard, despite a military crackdown of similar protests in previous years.

Rallies in support of the push for independence were also held by West Papuan expatriates and locals across Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the Pacific where they could raise the flag free of interference.

The leaders of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea recently added their support to the movement, speaking out on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly.

Reverend James Bhagwan, the general secretary at Pacific Conference of Churches, said a flag-raising commemoration in Suva was illustrative of the current situation.

“It is a day of prayer and reflection, particularly because that is the only thing they can do, given the oppression by Indonesia,” he said on a World Council of Churches podcast.

In a rejection of Indonesian autonomy laws, he has asked for UN human rights’ teams to visit Papua.

Support for West Papuan independence grows
The West Papuan resistance movement badgers Indonesian authorities during a 2019 rally in their call for independence from Indonesia. Picture: Andrew Gal / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP

The call for independence has garnered support from the Pacific Islands Forum, but nothing has come of it.

Rev Bhagwan additionally demanded an end to “systematic racism that has manifested itself socially, politically and economically” since Indonesian occupation.

The Morning Star flag was raised alongside the Dutch standard when the Netherlands prepared to leave its former colony.

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But two years after Dutch New Guinea disbanded, Indonesia controversially took control of Papuan lands and split it into two provinces.

A brutal conflict followed in the intervening years since, that has led outspoken international leaders to criticise Indonesia for human rights abuses.

“This day is a reminder of how long justice takes – a sad reminder in this world when we talk about democracy so freely, we talk about rights so freely, yet in many parts of the world there’s still people who are crying out for that,” Rev Bhagwan said.

“There’s a failure of so many international organisations and the international community has failed, the UN has failed.”

The Pacific Conference of Churches invited its member churches last month to observe 40 days of hunger for justice and peace for West Papua, the Kanaky in New Caledonia, and the Maohi Nui in French Polynesia with the prayer and fasting that ends on Monday.


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