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OXFORD, UK – Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare fought for the dignity of indigenous Papuans. It was an 84 year lifetime in which his story blessed freedom fighters in Melanesia. He was born for a purpose.
West Papua walked in the shadows and its independence leaders embraced the drama and watched with pride as Papua New Guinea surged ahead.
The ' father of the nation' spoke in 2016 on the issue of West Papua, and that statement answered many questions.
Sir Michael has passed on but his assurance keeps hopes alive that freedom for West Papua is within reach.
Our Papuan nation bids farewell to its Melanesian Star who saved the country.
Sir Michael, in his long career, dominated PNG and Pacific politics. And, West Papua was part of the conversation.
He helped build a nation, the Papuan nation, that sits at the meeting point between the Pacific and dynamic East Asia with all the strategic, economic and cultural issues that brings.
Somare was the colossus of PNG’s political landscape: chief minister (1972-75) while the country was still an Australian-administered territory; its first prime minister (1975-80); and its third (1982-85) and twelfth (2002-12).
For 17 of PNG’s 45 years since gaining independence – more than a third of the period – Somare was its leader.
When not in this role, he was very much the power behind the scenes, kingmaker, sometimes troublemaker and – often – peacemaker.
His death unites the Papuan race in grieving the death of its founding father. The Papuan nation mourns his death. But his mission would be complete.
And the challenge of West Papuan independence can be surmounted.
In the late 1960s, Sir Michael lifted the bar beyond the expectations of the international community following revolutions across Africa and elsewhere in the non-European world.
West Papua is the story of Melanesia's nightmare. The independence struggle continued well into 21st century across the border.
It has come back to haunt free countries in the region because West Papua is an essential part of the story of Melanesian liberation.
I thank Sir Michael for supporting West Papua's bid for recognition as a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead group (MSG).
In 1986, Sir Michael joined forces with the founding fathers of the Republic of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands to establish the MSG.
Sir Michael passed on five years later, but the nuts and bolts were in place then when he supported the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) to bid for full membership of the group.
At the February 2018 MSG Leaders’ Summit in Port Moresby, MSG membership for ULMWP was postponed due to a legal technicality.
At the time, ULMWP diplomats met Sir Michael. He had words of encouragement for the West Papua people's struggle for freedom.
This blessing for West Papua is clear. And these last words are amplified forever with the 'father of the nation' gone: “We Melanesians must make the right choices on West Papua”.
We remember the undisturbed conversation on West Papua's inalienable right to self-rule he started during the years he was prime minister and continued when he left the public space.
In 1967, the 'angry young man' lit the fire which soared high for Melanesian awakening.
Today, freedom is in the air for Kanaky of New Caledonia and for West Papua.
Across the border from PNG, the 250 Papuan tribes of West Papua join Lady Veronica Somare and her children, and the 1,000 Papuan tribes in PNG to grieve the passing of Grand Chief Sir Michael.
RIEP, Grand Chief of the Papuan Nation.
Benny Wenda is chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua