The Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Co-operation- PNG and Indonesia

What is the Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Cooperation?

Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Cooperation was a bilateral non-aggression pact that governs border relations that was signed between the governments of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea on October 1986.

Under the terms of this treaty the two countries agreed not to threaten or use force against one another and not to cooperate with others in hostile or unlawful acts against each other or allow their territory to be used by others for such purposes. Provision was made also for consultation and negotiation in the event of any dispute.

Why was the treaty signed?

Some Papua New Guineans after independence have expressed fears that Indonesia might one day invade Papua New Guinea as it invaded East Timor so in signing the treaty, they believed the treaty would stop Indonesia from ever invading PNG in the near future as the treaty says that both countries should agree not to threaten or use force against each other. And the most important and probably Indonesia’s hidden agenda in signing the treaty was to stop border crossovers, especially the West Papuans seeking refuge in PNG.

What is Papua New Guinea’s stance on the issue?

 PNG, the host of the inaugural MSG summit in 1986, and the largest country in Melanesia, is perhaps the most politically influential as well as populous member of the group. With regard to support for West Papuan independence, it is also the most reserved. PNG shares a border with Indonesia (West Papua) and its army is outnumbered 322 to one by Indonesia’s, factors which explain PNG’s reticence to challenge Indonesia on its neighbor’s plight. PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has been conscientious in condoning Indonesia’s “sovereignty” in West Papua, probably in the hope of reducing the border conflicts and infiltration by Indonesian troops into PNG that occur several times a year, in spite of the 1986 treaty.

There are also many economic and development opportunities for PNG to exploit through collaboration with Indonesia; in 2013 PNG agreed to work with Indonesia on joint border gas exploration, highway construction and hydro-power projects. At the 2013 MSG summit PNG’s previous prime minister and one of the founders of the MSG, Michael Somare, addressed those gathered: “There is strong and growing support among the MSG peoples for West Papua’s membership to MSG and West Papua’s aspirations to self-determination.

I believe that MSG should actively make representations to Indonesia to address human rights abuses in West Papua”—because West Papua is “a significant Melanesian community”. However, PNG’s current prime minister, Peter O’Neill, did not even attend the summit. Instead, he was leading a delegation of PNG leaders to Indonesia for discussion of border controls, trade and investment. While there, O’Neill reiterated to the Indonesian press that PNG is committed to supporting West Papua as a part of Indonesia.

PNG’s Foreign Minister, Rimbink Pato, visited Indonesia and West Papua for the FMM, together with the Foreign Ministers of Fiji and the Solomon Islands and a representative of the FLNKS and When quizzed by media on human rights violations in West Papua he responded, “I have not seen the evidence. As I’ve said, we have a clear mandate and we have conducted an investigation … our mission has been completed”.

And while in Jayapura, West Papua, Pato reaffirmed that the MSG members “support Papua to remain under Indonesian sovereignty”. Nevertheless, civil society and local and opposition politicians in PNG support West Papuan independence. The Melanesian United Front launched a campaign and petition to support the WPNCL at the MSG, and the leader of the opposition in PNG, Belden Namah, stated that: “Papua New Guinea has a moral obligation to raise the plight of West Papuans and their struggle for independence with the Indonesians and before international bodies and forums”

Despite the earlier pledge to support West Papuan independence, following a meeting with Yudhoyono in Jakarta, the MSG delegation made it clear it would not interfere in Indonesia’s “internal affairs”. In a joint statement, Indonesia and the MSG concluded they “supported respective sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, consistent with the Charter of the United Nations”.

To conclude, the reason that PNG Government has not shown support to West Papuan independence is that it wants to maintain a peaceful and productive relationship with Indonesia. Papua New Guinea’s official position is that West Papua belongs to Indonesia. because we have signed a treaty with Indonesia and according to pacta sunt servanda, we must keep the agreement.

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