President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has sought to quell growing support for Papuan self-determination among Indonesia’s Pacific island neighbors, on Monday seeking to demonstrate the area’s recent economic progress to visiting Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo.
Members of the intergovernmental Melanesian Spearhead Group have recently expressed sympathy for self-determination for the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, and some officials in Jakarta fear it could bolster wider international support for secession.
The MSG comprises Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as well as the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) of New Caledonia, a special collectivity of France.
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation, an umbrella group for organizations seeking West Papuan independence, applied in June for membership of the MSG during the group’s summit in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Only after intervention from Jakarta did the MSG delay its decision on the WPNCL application by six months.
“President Yudhoyono invited the Solomon Islands prime minister so they can discuss various bilateral issues, including Papua,” Teuku Faizasyah, a presidential spokesman for international issues, said after the meeting. “The president has explained to his guest that Indonesia has done many things to make Papua prosperous and that the development will continue.”
Faizasyah said officials from Melanesian countries had also visited Papua, and claimed all the officials had praised Indonesia’s development there.
“[The] Solomon Islands has never supported Papuan independence. They understand how serious Indonesia is in developing Papua and empowering the Papuans. On several occasions, they said they respected Indonesia’s territorial integration. The MSG also has a similar understanding of Indonesia’s serious efforts.”
Faizasyah said the visit would counter negative reports about Papua.
Indonesia’s military and police have been accused of gross human rights violations in Papua, including extra-judicial killings of pro-independence activists.
Several videos circulating online show police torturing Papuans while foreign media outlets have reported on efforts to spy on Papua activists and limit their freedom.
Jakarta has maintained a massive military presence in Papua and implemented a tight screening process for foreigners wishing to enter the provinces, raising suspicion about national government activities there.
Aleksius Jemadu, dean of Pelita Harapan University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said the Indonesian government needs to boost relations with Melanesian countries if it is to prevent the push for independence gathering momentum.
“I think Indonesia has the economic leverage to persuade the Melanesian countries to support its territorial integrity,” he said. “Jakarta can convince the countries that Indonesia is a gateway to an Asian economic miracle and they can be part of the economic prosperity through Indonesia.”
The western portion of Papua was integrated into Indonesia following the 1969 so-called Act of Free Choice, but tensions have long persisted.
Faizasyah said Lilo’s visit “reflects the determination of the two nations to build their friendship based on the respect of their respective sovereignty.”
He added that dealings between the Solomon Islands and Indonesia had been productive over the past five years.
“Our trade relations even registered an average annual increase of 17.28 percent,” he said. “The Solomon Islands also works with Indonesia in the fields of energy, fishing, development, media and culture.”
Bilateral trade volume was at $15.9 million in 2012, with Indonesia posting a $9.1 million surplus.
Faizasyah said the two leaders also discussed economic cooperation and development programs for the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asian regions.
Lilo is scheduled to remain in Indonesia until Wednesday.