WW2 remains examined by Defence Department
The border 1: 1962 seems like only yesterday

The border 2: The PNG government must act

GELAB PIAK analyses current PNG - Indonesia border issues and sees a porous boundary accessible to rebels, illegals - and PNGns seeking services

Their common border has always been a contentious issue between PNG and Indonesia.

There was a time in the 1970s and early 1980s when suspicion was so high on both sides that there was a very real fear in PNG of high level invasion by Indonesian forces.

The PNG Defence Force drilled in jungle warfare tactics, mostly to hold off the superior numbers of Indonesian troops in the jungles of PNG.

At the time West Papua freedom fighters, the OPM, took advantage of the suspicion and mistrust between the two countries to carry out rebel activities in PNG territory, further driving a wedge between the two neighbours.

West Papuans crossed as refugees into PNG in droves, heightening diplomatic and security tensions.

Then in 1987, at the instigation of PNG, the two countries signed the Treaty of Mutual Friendship, Goodwill and Respect. Cross-border dialogue improved and increased in frequency.

Today, Waigani and Jakarta share a cordial relationship with embassies in each capital and consulates in Vanimo and Jayapura. But the no-man’s land between the two countries remains the same 1,600km stretch of hostile virgin jungle.

There is no indication as to where the border is except cement markers planted every 75km or so in the jungle. In thick jungle, most of these markers are overgrown and are no longer visible.

OPM freedom fighters still carry out their daring hit and run war against the Indonesian armed forces along the border. Uniformed Indonesian soldiers continue to cross the border in hot pursuit and often mistake PNG citizens for West Papuan OPM activists as happened last month in a border village called Skotso in Sandaun Province.

Amid all this, the PNG Government sits almost uninterested and, even if it is interested, it is apparently helpless.

PNG must now face two realities which might in time become threats, if they are not already so.

All along the border, the Indonesian government seems to have a decided to build infrastructure and improve government services. This is luring PNG citizens, who have tribal relationships across the border, to cross into Indonesian towns looking for jobs, medical treatment and in search of education.

A boy who was shot last month was attending school in Indonesia and was returning home to Skotso when the incident happened. Despite the shooting, relatives ferried the boy back across the border to get medical treatment in Jayapura, reinforcing the idea that, whatever the threat, PNG’s border people seek services on the other side.

The second problem is illegal border crossers. Forest Minister Belden Namah said last week that Asians were crossing illegally into PNG. “They do not need to come in containers any more. They just breathe fresh air and cross the border into PNG in broad daylight,” Mr Namah said.

The PNG response to this is next to nothing. There is nil development of any kind all along the PNG side of the border. And the PNG Defence Force detachment and police border commands in both Western and Sandaun lack vehicular support, communications and other logistics.

The Sandaun police are understaffed by half the required ceiling and have withdrawn all personnel from sub-districts along the border from Amanab and Green River to Telefomin.

“It is a very difficult situation when you call and call and it falls on deaf ears,” Mr Namah said in relation to his attempts to get the Government to improve border security and surveillance and to increase funding for infrastructure and economic projects along the border.

The new Border Development Authority ought to be authorised to use its funds to increase surveillance and to establish agro-forestry projects in Sandaun and Western Provinces.

Gelab Piak is a freelance journalist and student at Divine  University in Madang. He is a regular contributor to PNG Attitude


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