Papua, Jubi – Papua’s provincial government is frustrated over a lack of action by Indonesia’s central government to open up direct international flights to Papua.
Connecting the country more to the Pacific Islands region is a stated aim of the Indonesian government of Joko Widodo.
The aim was writ large at Indonesia’s landmark Pacific Exposition trade and culture event held in Auckland last month.
Indonesia’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, described the event as “a platform to expand networking for all Pacific countries in various economic sectors, including tourism, trade, and investments”.
But according to the provincial government of Papua, despite Jakarta’s talk about connecting Pacific peoples, West Papuans are more isolated than ever.
Indonesian restrictions on access to Papua region for foreign humanitarian agencies, researchers and media are well known. But getting in and out of the region is also difficult for West Papuans themselves.
It’s been decades since there were direct flights to Papua from neighbouring Papua New Guinea where West Papuans have many family and cultural links.
The chairman of the Papuan People’s Assembly, Yunus Wonda, said the provincial government had been requesting Jakarta’s help on this front for years — without success. It was, he suggested, a reflection of a lingering trust issue between the Indonesian state and West Papuans.
“So what the leaders of Papua would like to see is affirmative action from the central government to truly show the people of Papua that it would really like to open up this region to the rest of the world, particularly to the Pacific,” Mr Wonda said through a translator.
“It will also reflect on the trust that the people of Papua would have in the central government of Indonesia.”
Ambassador Yahya said there should be no impediment to international links to Papua, suggesting that the ball was not in central government’s court.
“Immigration and customs are now ready, security has no issue. We are now waiting for airlines to fly the new routes,” he said.
In 2017, PNG’s national carrier, Air Niugini, was looking at starting direct flights to Papua’s capital Jayapura. Ultimately, the idea was put on ice partly because the airline was discouraged by hurdles within the Indonesian system.
As it stands, if a West Papuan wishes to travel to neighbouring or regional countries such as PNG, Australia or New Zealand, they have the onerous mission of flying first to Bali in the opposite direction and then taking another set of flights to their destination. It may take them a whole day.
“It could much more simple having direct flights to these places,” Mr Wonda said.
He cited the example of Surabaya as a province within Indonesia which has benefitted from direct international flights links.
“But Papuan people in a way have been isolated from the rest of the world, and therefore the hope is in the coming years for Papua to be opened up to the rest of the world.”
Papua’s Governor Lukas Enembe has been outspoken about his desire to see the province connect more with Pacific island countries, particularly PNG, in the areas of culture, politics and trade, recognising the potential for building small to medium business links.
During a rare visit to the neighbouring Melanesian country last year, Mr Enembe and counterparts in several PNG provinces met and agreed on growing ties.
Leaders in Jayapura acknowledge that Jakarta pays lip service to forging links between Indonesia’s eastern region and Pacific countries but is extremely sensitive about anything that might highlight the self-determination aspirations of Papuans.
“We haven’t seen any real action,” Mr Wonda said, adding that, fundamentally, it would come down to whether Indonesia’s government trusts the people of Papua.
In the meantime, the Papua government is waiting to see if all the talk of connectivity at the Pacific Expo will truly fly. (*)
Source: RNZ Pacific