Report – By the Post-Courier in Port Moresby
Papua New Guinea’s inability to man its 760km land border with Indonesia and increasing tension triggered by cross-border raids from Papua and lack of economic opportunities could make the area a flashpoint, the PNG Post-Courier reports.
Wutung villagers in the West Sepik Province and locals from the Morehead local level government area in the Western Province have expressed concern at the lack of intervention by the relevant PNG government agencies to address their problems, the newspaper said in a front-page report in its weekend edition.
Three weeks ago, Wutung villagers forcefully pulled down the Indonesian flag in protest against Indonesia, compelling Waigani to dispatch a team of officials led by the PNG Foreign Affairs Department to the border region.
The lack of income earning opportunities in West Sepik and the allegations that the popular Indonesian-owned Bartas market was built on the PNG side of the international border appear to be key factors that threaten to trigger hostilities.
“We are getting a little money from the trading at the border but it is just about 5 percent and it would be nice if we can capture at least 30 percent of it,” said Patrick Muliale, the Wutung Onne Bewani local level government president.
In the south in Western province’s Morehead District, increasing raids by Javanese poachers on wildlife in the world-famous Bensbach conservation area led to the PNG government sending an investigation team led by the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF).
It is understood the team has prepared a confidential report and submitted it to the Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc for the PNG government’s consideration.
Former PNGDF commander, Major-General Jerry Singirok (retired), subtly alluded to the investigation team’s findings when he made reference to the Indonesian military’s building of a permanent Forward Operations Base (FOB) at the Torasi River in PNG territory.
“This is indeed a major international incident and a serious border infringement that requires an immediate joint inspection and a diplomatic protest by PNG to Jakarta. But if PNG is not satisfied, it has the option to refer the matter to the United Nations Assembly for resolution.
“But then again, it is unlikely that PNG will take this option,” said the retired army commander.
The former PNG Customs Commissioner and now politician, Oro Governor Garry Juffa, also warned that the heavy presence of Indonesian government officials including army paratroopers made the border region vulnerable to conflict.
“The infrastructure includes a military base, office and staff accommodation for all officials and a market with a growing informal support base of civilians of 300 to 400 Javanese nationals, who will be immediately armed and ready to go into action should all hell break loose,” he said.
But Indonesian government officials, while acknowledging and regretting the Wutung skirmish three weeks ago, told the Post-Courier that they were ready to assist PNG grow its border area and the recent incidents warranted the need for PNG to continue to revise its contingency plans.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, when asked by the Post-Courier to comment on the issue, appeared unperturbed by the growing tensions and said his government would work with Indonesia to build PNG’s border infrastructure.
“They have offered to have their construction companies and their facilities across the border to help build our facilities on this side,” he said.
The weekend edition of the Post-Courier published a seven-page “PNG-Indonesia border focus” special report compiled and led by the newspaper’s award winning reporter Haiveta Kivia and other reporters. It also includes an editorial and commentaries by the former PNGDF commander Major General Jerry Singirok (retired) and former PNG Customs Commissioner-turned-politician Gary Juffa.
Source: Pacific Media Watch 8189