PNG to repatriate more than 700 Indonesians to RI

PNG to repatriate more than 700 Indonesians to RI

The Jakarta Post, Manado, National
Andi Haswidi

Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are currently cooperating to repatriate 708 Indonesians, from various backgrounds, currently living in the neighboring country, according to a state official.

Speaking after a bilateral meeting between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Michael Somare in Manado on Thursday, presidential spokesperson Dino Patti Djalal said the Indonesian migrants were mostly from the provinces of Papua and West Papua.

“[The Indonesian immigrants] have expressed their willingness to voluntarily come back to Indonesia. We are currently in active cooperation with the Papua New Guinea government to facilitate the repatriation,” Dino told reporters.

Whole villages of undocumented migrants from Indonesia line the PNG side of the border. Many are traditional migrants but others have fled the unstable conditions of the restive province with no intention of returning.

Yudhoyono and Somare were in Manado to attend the World Ocean Conference and the Coral Triangle Initiative Summit.

Dino said the two countries had agreed during the bilateral meeting to improve cooperation on border issues.

“Border issues are sensitive but the two leaders agree that the spirit for cooperation is strong. In the past, cooperation on border issues faced many challenges, particularly border crossings both from Indonesia to PNG and vice versa,” Dino said, adding that the meeting was also attended by Indonesian Military commander Gen. Djoko Santoso.

The latest major cross-border violation allegedly occurred when six Indonesian soldiers and five pro-West Papuan separatists were killed in a bloody fight on the border of Indonesia and PNG following several violent incidents coinciding with April's legislative election.

The clash also resulted in the destruction of a university, a church building, fuel depot and many houses at Batas, a check point on the border near Wutung, West Sepik Province.

The violent incidents forced the closure of the border to all travelers as well as traditional villages from Wutung going to their gardens on the Indonesia side of the border. Some separatists reportedly crossed the border to escape the police and military.

The Indonesian National Police said that the Free Papua Organization (OPM) was behind the series of attacks, as banners and fliers distributed during the incidents called for the sabotaging of the legislative elections.

When asked whether the meeting discussed separatists who fled to PNG, Dino said it did not touch on the issue. Somare, however, expressed his support for Indonesia's national union and territorial integrity.

Dino added that the bilateral meeting also discussed ways to improve economic relations between the two countries through, among other things, boosting bilateral trade.

“In terms of bilateral trade, the potential is big, but so far we have only managed to record about US$100 million a year. So, the two leaders have agreed to launch an annual meeting between economic ministers from the two countries,” he said.

Further talks will be carried out at the ministerial level for the arrangement of the annual meeting, Dino said.