[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The increasing tensions in Indonesian West Papua has attracted the attention of both the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee and the Bishops of the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea.
Sovereignty over West Papua has been disputed since the demise of the Netherlands East Indies in the 1940s. Indonesia claimed sovereignty over all of the former colony but the Dutch retained control over West Papua. Indonesia invaded the island in the 1960s and a later UN-brokered peace deal resulted in 1,000 “elders” electing to become part of Indonesia.
But the result of the “Act of Free Choice” has been disputed – with pro-independence campaigners saying that the elders who took part in the election were hand-picked by Indonesia and forced to vote unanimously for Indonesian control.
There has been growing calls for independence despite a crackdown on protest activity. Recently, police arrested more than 1,000 protestors who took part in a pro-independence march. International journalists are not allowed into the province and reports indicate that local journalists covering protests are harassed and blocked by police and military officials.
Archbishop Clyde Igara, Primate of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, said that week that the bishops of the PNG church “spoke in support of our Melanesian brothers and sisters of West Papua” during their recent meeting.
“The constitution of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea affirms the dignity of human life and the need to show respect for all people,” he said. “The bishops wish to express on behalf of the Anglican Church the hope that the Governments of Papua New Guinea and of West Papua will make every effort to give freedom to the many displaced people of West Papua to settle and re-establish their sense of livelihood; their homes and gardens.”
The Papua New Guinea bishops welcomed their government’s decision to give citizenship to West Papuans living in PNG. “We are clear that it is a Gospel imperative that we must ‘love the Lord our God and secondly to love our neighbours as ourselves’”, Archbishop Igara said. “Therefore we stand in solidarity with the people of West Papua.”
Meanwhile, at their meeting in Trondheim, Norway, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches called on member churches to “pray and act in support of Christian witness in the region.”
The Committee also requested that an international ecumenical delegation be sent to the region “as soon as possible” in order to “demonstrate the ecumenical movement’s accompaniment of the churches in the region, to hear the voices of the victims of violence and human rights violations, and to pursue the pilgrimage of justice and peace in this context.”
The Indonesian government says that “any solution to the issue must be within the framework of the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia.
“It is important to stress that Indonesia is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural and multi-linguistic nation with ‘unity in diversity’ as its moto. It is therefore important to find common ground to bridge differences among its peoples as differences are common in democratic societies throughout the world.”
It suggests increased regional autonomy in the region, which it calls Irian Jaya, and warns that “Problems arising of the province . . . have to be dealt with on a national basis and the Government would view any attempt to disrupt Indonesia’s sovereignty over Irian Jaya as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”