By Alfred Sasako
THE Solomon Islands’ Government appears to have accepted an olive branch extended by Indonesia over the controversial status of West Papua by sending senior officials to the capital, Jayapura, this week
Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) reported the week-long visit is headed by Solomon Islands’ Ambassador to Indonesia, Salana Kalu, who is joined by the Secretary to the Office of the former Chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), Rence Sore and the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, John Usuramo.
Mr Usuramo is the President of the Democratic Alliance Party (DAP), whose parliamentary leader is Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela.
The visit is the first by senior officials from Solomon Islands since the leadership change in Honiara last December. It follows a visit by Indonesian officials to Honiara two weeks earlier.
Other members on the delegation are drawn from five civil society groups, including the West Papua Solidarity Network, represented by Lily Chekana.
Civil society groups have long been known for accusing Jakarta of committing human rights abuses against the indigenous Melanesian people of West Papua. The visit provides an opportunity for the delegates to see for themselves what is happening on the ground.
Another civil society member on the delegation is former Honiara City Council councillor, Lawrence Makili, an outspoken critic of Indonesia on the West Papua issue.
The Indonesia-funded trip is certain to re-ignite internal government squabbling particularly over Solomon Islands position on West Papua.
Others have criticised Solomon Islands for keeping quiet about the visit, prompting a small protest by West Papuans in Jayapura on Tuesday.
Nine West Papuans were reportedly arrested by Indonesian police in Jayapura but were later released.
Those demonstrating included students, activists and some staff from the secretariat of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
A spokesman for the demonstrators said their public action was a way of questioning why the Solomon Islands delegation came to Papua “silently”, but also of conveying thanks to Solomon Islands for its support for West Papuan self-determination and human rights.
RNZI reported that the Solomon Islands delegation had been invited by Wiranto, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.
Speaking from his home in the US, the vice-chairman of the Liberation Movement, Octo Mote, expressed disappointment that Honiara had not told them about the visit, according to RNZI.
“They didn’t inform us at all, so I’m just predicting that one of the conditions of the visit from the Indonesian government was, don’t tell the Papuans,” he said.
Mr Mote suggested it would have been culturally appropriate for the Solomon Islanders to consult with representatives of the indigenous Papuans before they came to Papua.
According to the Indonesian government spokesman, the Solomon Islands delegation would be discussing potential infrastructure development that Indonesia could assist with in the Solomons, particularly ahead of the upcoming Pacific Games.
He said health sector cooperation was also up for discussion, in particular the need of Solomon Islands hospitals for medical equipment such as CT Scanners.
The delegation’s movements in Papua are being facilitated, at least in part, by Jakarta’s Papuan envoys, Frans Albert Joku and Nicolas Messet.
Former Papuan independence advocates, Mr Joku and Mr Messet both returned to Papua from exile around a decade ago and have been advocating for West Papuans to accept Indonesian rule.