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Friday 6 February 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT MORESBY – Papua New Guinea’s prime minister Peter O’Neill has promised to do more to speak out on behalf of Melanesians in Indonesian West Papua.

“Sometimes we forget our own families, our own brothers, especially those in West Papua,” O’Neill said at a PNG Leader’s Summit in Port Moresby

“I think, as a country, time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there.”

Apart from Vanuatu, governments in the Pacific have been slow to speak out on human rights abuses in West Papua, especially after Fiji was instrumental in getting Indonesia admitted as an observer at the Melanesian Spearhead Group of nations.

With the increasing power of social media, Pacific voters became more vocal about the failure of their governments to act.

Papua New Guinea’s O’Neill has taken note.

“Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on the social media, and yet we take no notice,” he said.

“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 is a regional leader.

“We must take the lead in having mature discussions with our friends in a more solid and engaging manner.”

O’Neill made the extraordinary comments during a major speech at the PNG Leader’s Summit in Port Moresby, where he outlined his government’s core policies for 2015, including free education, improving healthcare and strengthening law and order.

In the past, Port Moresby stuck firmly to its position that West Papua was an integral part of Indonesia.

It has been reluctant to talk about human rights abuses or to speak out on behalf of Melanesian separatists.

On Friday, the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULWP) will submit an application for full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Grassroots campaigners are urging their governments to support their Melanesian brothers.

The movement’s spokesman, Benny Wenda, said the application marked a significant moment in their fight for independence from Indonesia.

“For 50 years, West Papua never had a united voice to achieve our goal for independence,” Wenda said.

“But this has changed, we can unite in one group called ULWP.”

Wenda said in the 50 years under Indonesian rule, the Papuan people were looked upon by Indonesians as “second-class citizens and treated as sub-humans”.

Indonesia will oppose the move, but with the Kanak Liberation Movement from New Caledonia already a full member, there is a precedent.

The MSG leaders are expected to meet to make a decision in the middle of the year.