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Solomons govt approaches new position on West Papua
Radio New Zealand International - May 23, 2018
Consultations follow the submission of a report to government by a Solomons delegation which visited Indonesia last month.
The delegation, which included civil society workers, visited Indonesia's provinces of Papua and West Papua, at the invitation of Jakarta.
The Solomons' Special Secretary on Foreign Relations, Rence Sore, was one of the government officials who led the delegation. He spoke to Johnny Blades about the purpose of the visit.
Rence Sore: Solomon Islands, we are developing a policy on Papua and West Papua, extension of our foreign relations authority. And having gone to Papua and West Papua, we are now seeing a balanced picture.
Johnny Blades: So before you went was it unbalanced?
RS: Yes. Before we went we had been listening to the other side of the story. And the story we heard, we were always hearing at that time, was there's always human rights abuse, there's always fighting for independence, someone is being killed and all that. It's one-sided, all one-sided. When we went, the story was entirely different.
JB: I'm assuming you met with West Papuans themselves, not just the people in the government?
RS: Yeah, we met Papuans. We met civil society representatives. We had informal meetings in Jayapura. We also had informal meetings in Manokwari, the capital of west Papua province. The time was limited, but the informal meetings we had we consulted a good number of indigenous Melanesians, Papuans in Jayapura and also Papuans in Manokwari.
JB: What sort of things were they telling you, are they concerned about human rights or Indonesian rule?
RS: They are telling us that human rights violation was happening during military rule. Yes, there's no dispute. But since democrasi, there has been lots of improvements.
JB: There was some concern among Papuan groups that they weren't consulted by your delegation before you went to their homeland. What's your response?
RS: We consulted the government in Jakarta. We consulted the provincial government in Jayapura. We consulted the provincial government in Manokwari, West Papua. This is an official government-led civil society mission and all the legal authorities were consulted.
JB: The United Liberation Movement for West Papua, which has links with your country, they voiced disappointment at the way they weren't notified...
RS: The ULMWP, yes, they have strong connections with civil society organisations in Solomon Islands. Yes they have that strong connection. And to some extent, that strong connection also was with the previous Solomon Islands leadership, government, prime minister (Manasseh Sogavare). We went with authorisation from the current prime minister (Rick Hou), and official authorities were notified.
JB: Is it fair to say that under the leadership of Rick Hou the Solomon Islands government is no longer maintaining the stand that prime minister Sogavare had on West Papua?
RS: That decision is not yet formal. It depends entirely on the report. We did a report when we came back, and we are still doing the consultations on the policy. That policy will go through the government cabinet. Once the cabinet endorses the policy then it becomes the official government position. At the moment, the official position on West Papua and Papua, the government has yet to decide on the official position. We're trying to give the government a good picture. Both sides of the coin we have to tell the government, and the government independently makes that policy decision.
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