Source: Radio New Zealand
Vanuatu government’s strengthened ties with Indonesia spark outrage
Around two dozen people have been arrested in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila after staging a protest against the arrival of an Indonesian military aircraft.
The Hercules aircraft was reportedly carrying assistance equipment for next month’s Port Vila meeting between African Carribean and Pacific countries and the European Union.
Protestors say that the arrival of Indonesian officials and military personnel in the country is unacceptable given Vanuatu’s longstanding support for West Papuan self-determination.
Under a recently signed co-operation agreement, Indonesia is to provide police and paramilitary training to Vanuatu which in turn is to refrain from getting involved in the West Papua issue.
West Papuan leaders living in exile in Vanuatu have called on the government to reconsider its foreign policy in regard to Indonesia.
Indonesia last year became an observer of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which includes Vanuatu.
In view of the Papuans’ plight over the years, the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation’s John Ondawame says Vanuatu should revisit its dealings with Jakarta.
“We firmly believe that the Vanuatu government signed a co-operation agreement with a very brutal regime in the Asia Pacific region that killed thousands of my people in West Papua.”
Among those arrested at the airport protest was the West Papuan Andy Ayamiseba.
Speaking on the issue from the police holding cell, he described the arrangement with Indonesia as a mockery.
“Simply talking we say what interest is there for Indonesia in Vanuatu? There is no market for trading. It’s to silence Vanuatu on the issue of West Papua, that’s all. That’s all that Indonesia is interested in Vanuatu, nothing else.”
The arrival of the Indonesian military aircraft comes just days after the Kilman government expelled Australian Federal Police from Vanuatu.
The Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot says Vanuatu can survive without Australia’s assistance, saying it has new donors, such as Indonesia.
Meanwhile, Andy Ayamiseba questions the suitability of police training from a Force with a poor human rights record.
“If there is any such force to train Vanuatu police, Indonesia should be the last on the list. These people, they’re committing atrocities on other Melanesian people. So the excuse of kicking the AFP out was to have the Indonesian military and police to come in here?”
An opposition MP, Sela Molisa, says the people of Vanuatu are very strongly against the co-operation deal.
“The government can get assistance from anywhere, including Indonesia. But people have different opinion from the government. In as far as the NGOs and members of the public are concerned, they do not agree with the government making any deals with Indonesia, that’s in opposition to the situation in West Papua.”
Mr Molisa witnessed the arrests and has condemned police and government over them.