Wata Shaw – "West Papua is part of the Melanesian family, please know that you are at home."
These were the sentiments expressed by residents of Muanikoso settlement in Nasinu during a community talanoa session with members of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) yesterday.
The residents are predominately descendants of people from Vanuatu who arrived in Fiji in the early 1930s and settled in the area.
The talanoa session, led by five members of ULMWP, was organised to help raise awareness about the indigenous West Papuan people's struggle for autonomy and the ongoing atrocities faced by their people at the hands of Indonesian security forces.
ULMWP secretary Rex Rumakiek said it was their hope that Melanesian leaders and people would "stretch out their hands" to hug their Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua and for them to be accepted as full members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group in 2023.
"We wanted to embrace our Vanuatu/Fijian brothers here in Muanikoso," he said.
"We are here to talk to them and share stories with them so they can tell their children about West Papua.
"It is a story that will continue to be told for generations as West Papua was cut from Melanesia for 60 years but finally the door has opened for us to come back in.
"Recently, our ULMWP president Benny Wenda was in a meeting with Fiji Prime Minister.
"Our chief arrived shortly after Benny left and this time they came not to repeat what he and the group had came to do earlier, but are here to thank the leaders and community for what you have done."
Mr Rumakiek urged Melanesian leaders to stand with the people of West Papua who have experienced human rights abuses for many years.
Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (PIANGO) executive director Emeline Ilolahia said the update from West Papua CSOs about the recent incident in Wamena should raise alarm bells with all human rights groups in the region.
"There are reports that nine died and 17 others were shot on February 23 after a conflict arose between community and Indonesian forces over an alleged child abduction case," Ilolahia claimed.
"This and past cases of atrocities in West Papua should weigh heavily on the Pacific community, particularly as there are claims that more than 500,000 indigenous Papuans have lost their lives under Indonesia's rule."
Fiji Council of Social Services executive director Vani Catanasiga said Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka's commitment to support the full membership of the ULMWP in the MSG should be celebrated and supported by all Fijians.
"Our Prime Minister's commitment and the effective change in our government's position to support ULMWP is essentially about saving Papuan lives, saving the lives of members of a Pacific family," she said.
"We thank the Maunikoso community for hosting the event and welcoming guest speaker Mr Rumakiek who has been working to raise awareness and support for the cause in the region for decades."
Questions sent to the Indonesian Embassy yesterday in relation to the claims made by the ULMWP remain unanswered.