By Len Garae in Port Vila
West Papua independence campaigner Benny Wenda is in Vanuatu to meet Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau’s newly-installed government.
Wenda said he would also “strategise” on the way forward towards gaining eventual sovereignty from Indonesia and would be discussing ongoing issues in West Papua.
These include human rights abuses, and internal displacement of at least 160,000 Papuans by the Indonesian military while, he says, Jakarta continues to “pretend that nothing is happening in West Papua”.
Wenda said seven church pastors were among more than 200 people who had died in the conflict in the region in the last five years.
Wenda’s United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) has observer status in the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
“We are developing in Melanesia, but unfortunately we cannot develop on top of all the suffering in West Papua which is another Melanesian country,” he said.
“I look forward to meeting Vanuatu’s new government leaders to brief them on the realities happening in West Papua. For example in the last five years, almost 240 Melanesians have died in West Papua.
‘Seven pastors killed’
“So far seven of our church pastors have been killed, including the most well-known Pastor Sanabani — a Bible translator.
“Indonesian soldiers also target our children while women give birth in the bush. Nobody has any statistics because Indonesia has banned all journalists for almost 50 years now from entering and reporting on what has been happening in our country.”
Comparing their situation with that of Russia’s war with Ukraine, he said television viewers are focused on their screens while no one really cares about what is happening in their next door neighbour of West Papua.
“We, the Melanesian countries call ourselves Christians but where is the Melanesian spirit of Christian brotherhood regarding West Papua?
“We badly need Melanesian Good Samaritans and perhaps now is the right time to prove that level of responsible leadership,” he said.
Vanuatu has pushed through the West Papua case at the Pacific Islands Forum as well as further abroad through the Organisation of Asia Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) in Brussels.
Len Garae is a Vanuatu Daily Post journalist and RNZ Pacific correspondent.