Harlyne Joku, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – Papua New Guinea, after a decade's delay, has ratified an agreement governing its 760-kilometer (472-mile) border with powerful neighbor Indonesia, its foreign minister said, possibly opening the way to relieving a longstanding pressure point in relations.
The two countries periodically review the border agreement. Papua New Guinea's parliament until now had not ratified its most recent version, from 2013, freezing progress on managing the border.
"The ratification will pave the way for both governments to review the current status of the border and constructively address outstanding issues that affect both countries," PNG Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said Wednesday after parliament's unanimous vote.
The border that cuts across soaring mountains, swamps and dense jungle is a straight line through the middle of the island of New Guinea except for a squiggly bulge that tracks a river for about 160 kilometers. The line on the map is a product of the colonial era, which split the rule of the Melanesian island between the Netherlands and Australia and arbitrarily divided indigenous peoples organized around extended kinship.
Indonesia took control of the western half of New Guinea from the Dutch in the early 1960s. A peaceful independence movement and armed insurgency by indigenous Papuans against Indonesian rule has continued for decades and has some grassroots support in Papua New Guinea. The Pacific island country's government says it recognizes Indonesia's sovereignty over the Papuan territory.
Earlier this week, Papua New Guinea's foreign ministry said it expected Indonesian President Joko Widodo to visit in June, which would be the first time since 2015. Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape made an official visit to Indonesia last year.
Tkatchenko said he also wanted to make progress on a long-stalled defense cooperation agreement with Indonesia, whose population, economy and military is far larger than Papua New Guinea's.
"Now that this [border agreement ] has been approved, we are going to work with our Indonesian counterparts to review what needs to be updated, consult and work with Indonesia to look at how we can improve the border issues for the benefit of both our countries," Tkatchenko said.
"The security of our borders with both our defense forces working together side by side doing joint border patrols is absolutely paramount to protecting both our countries' sovereignties," he said.
Researchers say that Indonesia is concerned by the prospect of Papuan insurgents moving between both countries. Over the decades Indonesia itself has periodically made incursions into Papua New Guinea's territory, deliberate and accidental, they say.
In the early 1980s, an Indonesian highway was discovered crossing into Papua New Guinea at three points, according to academic researchers Harry Purwanto and Dewa Gede Sudika Mangku.
It took more than three months to secure an acknowledgement from Indonesia that the road incursion had taken place and 16 months before the offending sections were closed off, they said in a 2017 report.
Papuans on the Indonesian side of the border have at times fled into Papua New Guinea to escape the conflict between insurgents and Indonesia. In 2021, an armed group in Papua New Guinea reportedly said it would support the Papuan independence fighters in Indonesia. There is also legal and illegal border trade of produce such as vanilla beans.
Ratification of the border agreement, Tkatchenko said, would allow the two countries to work on improving their immigration, customs and trade arrangements.
"It allows us to review the process of border arrangements and to look at the actual areas of border between PNG and Indonesia, customary and traditional land of PNG and its people," he said.