“We are part of them and they are part of us,” declared politician Augustine Rapa, founder and president of Papua New Guinea’s Liberal Democratic Party.
Rapa was speaking in Port Moresby on 1 December at the 61st anniversary of the struggle for independence in West Papua.
Rapa’s statement was in response to PNG police who arrived at the anniversary celebration and attempted to prevent Papuans from the other side of the colonial border from commemorating this significant national day.
According to Rapa, the issue of West Papua’s plight for liberation should be at the top of the agenda in PNG.
He urged PNG's foreign affairs minister Justine Tkatchenko to take the plight of West Papuans to the United Nations.
Frank Makanuey, a senior West Papuan representative, appealed to the PNG government to alter its foreign policy and laws so Papuans from the other side of the border can continue to be free to express their opinions peacefully, as inscribed in the UN’s charter of Indigenous people.
According to Makanuey, 7,000 West Papuans living in PNG will continue to fight for their freedom as long as they live, and when they die will pass the torch of resistance to their children.
On the day of the commemoration, Minister Tkatchenko reiterated the same message as Rapa.
“These West Papuans are part of our family; part of our members and are part of Papua New Guinea,” he said.
“They are not strangers.
“We are separated only by imaginary lines, which is why I am here.
“I did not come here to fight, to yell, to scream, to dictate,” Tkatchenko said, “but to reach a common understanding - to respect the law of Papua New Guinea and the sovereignty of Indonesia.”
The minister then stated that West Papuans in PNG should be accommodated under PNG's immigration law through an appropriate route.
A few days after this speech, the same minister attended bilateral meetings with countries and international organisations in the Pacific, including Timor Lester, PNG, Vanuatu and the Director General of the Melanesian Spearhead Group ahead of the Indonesia-Pacific Forum for Development in Bali.
Following a ministerial meeting with the Indonesian foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, Tkatchenko said, “As Papua New Guineans, we must support and respect Indonesia's sovereignty.”
He said PNG would will with Indonesia to resolve any issues that arise with West Papuans living in the country.
One of the most critical and concerning developments of this visit was the announcement of the defence cooperation agreement between PNG and Indonesia.
“We are moving forward in the process of signing a defence corporation agreement between PNG and Indonesia,” Tkatchenko said.
“We will work harder and partner on a common goal to achieve security along both countries' borders.”
In March this year, PNG prime minister James Marape led a large delegation to Jakarta for bilateral discussions.
It was reported this 24 hour trip from Moresby cost K5 million (roughly AUD$2 million). This must have been a significant expedition with a considerable agenda.
The public, ordinary Papuans on both sides of the border, will never know the real purpose for spending so much money on such a brief trip.
This border was described by Tkatchenko as separating PNG and Indonesia by “imaginary lines”.
It is those ‘imaginary lines’ that have caused so much division, destruction and dislocation amongst Papuans.
Marape grew up in the interior Papuan region of Tari, home of the proud Huli nation which shares ancient kinship with other original nations such as Yali, Kimyal, Hubula, Dani and Lani on the western side of the border.
As a custodian of this region, Marape may have witnessed some of the most devastating, unreported, humanitarian crises instigated by ruthless Indonesian military in this area in the name of sovereignty and border protection.
Why does his government in Moresby boast about signing a defence agreement in Jakarta?
This could be a death wish for Papuans – his people and their ancestral land in the border region.
There is nothing unusual about countries making agreements on matters concerning their survival or well-being.
The border between Indonesia and PNG has been stained by decades of the protracted war against Papuans.
But why is now the time to discuss a defence agreement? And what are the objectives of this initiative?
Who is protecting who and from whom?
For 500 years European vultures circled the island of New Guinea eventually slicing it into pieces.
Now new vultures are encroaching upon us as global power structure shifts from west to east.
Responding to these developments, Marape warned that PNG would not get caught in a geopolitical standoff with the US, Australia or China, warning the global powers to “keep your fights to yourselves”.
But will Marape have a choice in this matter? Does he have the power to stop war in the Pacific?
Since its independence, when has the PNG government been able to halt the brutality and onslaught of the Indonesians against their own people on the other side of the ‘imaginary line’?
The foreign affairs minister went to Jakarta and negotiated a defence deal with an entity that threatens to annihilate West Papuans just after he had conveyed a heartfelt message to these very same people.
Can both the prime minister and the foreign affairs minister avoid being caught in the middle of a looming war as the Pacific becomes yet another strategic war space between the Imperial West and the Imperial East?
“Let's not make this happen, please, our PNG brothers and sisters open your eyes!” said Benny Wenda, an international icon for the liberation of West Papua.
“Can't you see they're trying to take over our ancestors’ land.”
Wenda had warned in a recent report that “mass displacements are occurring in every corner of West Papua”.
What matters to West Papuans is whether they will survive for another 20 years under Indonesian settler colonialism.
They face an existential threat under Indonesian colonial rule.
The PNG government must be very careful in its dealings with Jakarta. Every single agreement by both PNG and Indonesia will leave a permanent mark on the wounded soul of West Papua.
The government and people of PNG must consider who their neighbours will be in a hundred years from now.
Will they be Indonesians or West Papuans? It is a critical question that will determine the fate of the island, nation, languages and culture of the big island of New Guinea.
West Papua is bleeding and the last thing it needs is for the PNG governmental apparatus and forces to harass and chase them as they seek refuge.
PNG is not the enemy of West Papua; the enemy of PNG is not West Papua. The enemies are those who divide the island into pieces, exploit its resources and sign defence agreements to further solidify imaginary lines while leaving its original custodians of the land stranded on the streets and slums like beggars.
Papuans have lived in this ancient and timeless land from Sorong to Samarai for thousands of years.
The actions we take today will determine whether the descendants of these archaic autochthons will survive in the thousands of years to come.