ABC News – By Catherine Graue on Pacific Beat
Calls for the West Papua region to be granted independence continued this week as activists took to the streets in various Australian cities, calling for the Federal government to support an independence referendum.
Melanesians who call the region home have been pushing for independence for decades.
A referendum was held in July 1969, overseen by the United Nations.
It was called the Act of Free Choice but it has been heavily criticised.
Hugh Lunn, an Australian journalist who was on the ground reporting for the Reuters news agency during the 1969 referendum, is among those critics.
“I thought it would be a vote. What a fool I was. Under the UN, it was note a vote. They specially selected 1025 people, in the eight provincial capitals and told them they had to make the decision,” Mr Lunn told Pacific Beat.
“They all voted for staying part of Indonesia, but as I was walking through the fair, people stuck letters under my arm, one of them was addressed to the ‘nicest man in Merauke’, and they said ‘this is all a farce, we’re scared to say anything, no one knows what to do'”.
The West Papua region is actually two provinces, Papua and West Papua, that make up the western half on New Guinea island, and has previously also been known as Irian Jaya.
It officially became part of Indonesia after that vote, and since then, there have been continuous reports of violent crackdowns and human rights abuses committed by Indonesian authorities, particularly its military, against pro-independence supporters.
The Indonesian government says it has been paying special attention to the human rights issues.
Since coming to power in 2014, President Joko Widodo has made economic and infrastructure development a priority, which is something experts like Cahyo Pamungkas say is important to help stem the conflict.
He is a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, and has conducted extensive field research on West Papua.
But he says that economic and infrastructure development won’t resolve the violence, because there are still limited benefits to the Melanesian population.
Mr Pamungkas and his colleagues recently visited the Indonesian Presidential office to deliver their recommendations on how best to approach the issue of West Papua, ahead of the national election in April.
“The government should cancel the military operations, or withdraw the troops and police from the central mountains, because it increases the potency for human right abuse. There is no other option,”
he said.Duration: 5min 2secBroadcast: Fri 15 Feb 2019, 7:00am