Hiding In Your Cupboard

Hiding In Your Cupboard
Banksy's desecration of the Palestinian wall

Thursday, 8 May 2008

West Papuans Forge Alliance To Push For Independence

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Asia Pacific Journalism, 8 May 2008

Groups seeking independence for West Papua have in the past been divided. Now, reports James Murray, unity is the buzzword and activists have joined forces.

West Papuans hoping for wrest independence have taken an important step with the formation of a coalition designed to unify the country’s resistance to Indonesian rule.

The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) was set up after a meeting held in Port Vila, Vanuatu, last month.

Richard Yoweni of the National Liberation Army of West Papua was elected as chairman.

The coalition allows the West Papuan people to protect and reclaim its resources and culture said coalition spokesperson Clemens Runawery.

“Indonesian government control over West Papua for the past 45 years and the implementation of its so-called ‘special autonomy’ package in the past five years has grossly failed the West Papuan people,” he said.

Runawery is a West Papuan politician who has lived in exile since the so-called Act of Free Choice handed control of West Papua to Indonesia in 1969.

He said that under the Indonesian administration there has been a “rapid deterioration of health and education, an ever increasing wave of the HIV/AIDS disease and huge profiteering from the West Papuan natural resources and rainforests”.

The WPNCL will be based at the West Papuan People’s Representative office in Port Vila.
Maire Leadbeater, spokesperson for New Zealand’s Indonesian Human Rights Committee, said Vanuatu’s support was vital as it was hard for the coalition to meet freely in West Papua.

Leadbeater was not surprised at Vanuatu’s stance.

“They had to struggle to achieve their own freedom so it’s not just the government, it’s the people as well – they pray for it [West Papuan independence] in their churches. If the Vanuatu government backslides it faces a lot of domestic pressure,” she said.

This view was shared by Pacific-based photojournalist Ben Bohane.

“Vanuatu was the only Pacific nation to join the non-aligned movement during the Cold War and has maintained an independent foreign policy since then,” he said.

Vanuatu’s support for West Papua and the formation of the WPNCL is the first step in presenting a strong, unified Melanesian position to Pacific Island regional bodies.

Bohane says it is important for West Papua to gain the support of regional bodies for the issue to be dealt with by the United Nations.

Runawery says: “WPNCL is now seeking observer status with the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Islands Forum as a platform for the people of West Papua within the UN and other international forums.”

Groups such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group will benefit from this unity when the West Papua issue is brought up at the Pacific Island Forum. The forum does not necessarily support West Papuan independence.

“Since the issue has been ‘swept under the tapa mat’ by the forum for so long, we have to say that the forum is not neutral but anti-West Papua. This has been because of pressure from Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to keep it off the agenda,” says Bohane.
The WPNCL also protests against the international investment of companies with extensive interests in the resource rich area such as BP in Tangguh and Freeport, which operates the Grasberg copper mine.

Bohane says “having considerable resources has been a curse, not a blessing for the West Papuans”.

“BP, like every other mining company, is exploiting the situation there, particularly if they are relying on Indonesian military for security,” he says.

BP’s liquefied natural gas project in Tangguh may eventually be worth $100 billion dollars and the Grasberg copper mine is one of the world’s largest sources of precious metals contributing heavily to Freeport’s estimated worth of $26 billion.

Guardian journalist John Vidal writes that Papuan leaders were pleased with BP’s initial humanitarian efforts. The company was keen to avoid the experiences of extraction companies in Africa and South America where they have been accused of exploiting local communities.

“BP completely rebuilt one fishing village, poured money into the nearby communities, and employed leading environment, human rights and health groups to advise them on how to avoid conflict and bring prosperity to the villages,” wrote Vidal.

However, relations have started to turn sour with indigenous Papuans becoming frustrated at the number of Indonesian immigrants taking jobs in the area - jobs that have not been offered to West Papuans. They also accuse BP of taking sides with the Indonesian government to ensure that they have access to the Tangguh resources.

Protests by the Free West Papua (UK) group have been lodged at BP’s Tangguh Independent Advisory Panel (TIAP) meeting. They claim that BP has ignored abuses of human rights including the long-term imprisonment of West Papuans accused of raising the indigenous Morning Star flag.

They say Indonesian soldiers had threatened to shoot a Papuan who had erected a banner saying “Welcome Prince Andrew to the land of Papua – the Land of Genocide” during the prince’s recent visit as the UK business envoy.

Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, has written to BP to warn that they have caused instability in the region. They say Papuans “see them as a collaborator with Jakarta’s exploitation of West Papua’s natural resources”.

Runawery said the role of companies such as BP had been “disastrous” and was causing Papuans to become a minority in their own country. The investment of BP and Freeport had “effectively underwritten the occupation of West Papua by the Indonesian security forces”.

“The expansion of Indonesian government backed businesses and economic interests is at the expense of the people of West Papua,” said Runawery, in a reference to tight military controls, a lack of political freedom and the abuse of human rights.

Considering the large financial incentive that the Indonesian government has to keep control of West Papua it may be some time before their dream of independence is realised.

Bohane believes West Papua will be independent at some point but that it will take time.
The formation of the WPNCL was certainly a step in the right direction though.

“It is hard to be optimistic. However, it is a significant development to have the realisation of a unified command and leadership under WPNCL which will give the independence movement a better chance of success in its international diplomacy,” he said.

The first moves of this unified command will be to get West Papua on the UN Decolonisation Committee and to seek to repeal the Act of Free Choice.

James Murray is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University and this is an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Auckland graffiti artists operate in legal grey area

Auckland graffiti artists are operating in a legal grey area as there is a lack of legal places to practice their craft.

“There are nowhere near enough!” said graffiti artist Pest5 of TMD crew.

TMD crew are one of Auckland’s most successful graffiti art groups. Artists come from as far away as Germany and members such as Askew have exhibited work in Europe, Australia and Japan.

“Usually a particular artist or artists will have acquired permission from the property owner,” said Pest5.

In Auckland legal street art is actually an oxymoron as there are no officially designated sites.

However, police in Wellington have taken a different approach to dealing with taggers.

Sara Tamati, aka Spexone, is a member of the Triple S crew in Wellington.

She said that the police there often refer young people, who have been caught tagging, to the Triple S crew to learn more about the writing culture.

In Auckland, suitable sites are few and far between and artists have to queue up to use them.

Pieces can only be painted over once they have been defaced by “a stupid young tagger”.

In other situations graffiti artists will use a site that has been tagged several times. A site is deemed safe to paint over once it has been covered in tags.

This practice is still technically illegal as permission has not been granted but police can turn a blind eye to graffiti artists when they are painting over a heavily tagged wall.

“It depends on the moods of the cops that day. If you’re doing a proper piece over existing graffiti they can see that you’re not causing any trouble and let you get on with it,” said Pest5.

Graffiti Enforcement Officer for Auckland City Police, Reginald Alofa, said that he was aware that “’proper graffiti artists’” were different to taggers.

“They see it as a real art form and that they do in fact commit quite a bit of resources into it in terms of their time, the purchases of paint and brush not to mention spray cans and all other neccessary 'tools of the trade'. They are quite passionate about it and seem to draw a lot of enjoyment from it,” he said.

He did not know of any cases where officers had been “blasé” towards people causing wilful damage though.

“It's always important to charge taggers (and I do) to send a clear message out to them that we do not tolerate wilful damage, in line with the Government's renewed commitment to combating graffiti,” he said.

Tamati does not believe that taggers should always be viewed negatively and said that the distinction between ‘real’ graffiti artists and taggers is often a misconception.

There is a hierarchy in the writing element and taggers are at the bottom of this, learning the basics.

“There is no school to go and do this, you start off as a tagger and try and enhance yourself,” she said.

Writing (graffiti) is an integral part of hip-hop culture, which also includes b-boying (breakdancing), djing and rapping.

“Within our writing culture we find young people with the potential to grow within the culture and mentor them in the process that we know.

“Most of the young people we work with end up doing some good work,” she said.

This attitude has proved successful for the Triple S Crew who between them run three successful businesses including Top Shelf Creative, a clothing and design venture.

The crew have also been commissioned by Save the Children to create murals which pass on knowledge in a way that is accessible and understood by young people.

The mural at Cannons Creek Primary School in Cannons Creek, Porirua reads “Passing on the Knowledge” and Tamati says it reflects the crew’s aims in “passing on our hip hop knowledge artistically through to young people”.

Creative New Zealand was unaware of any similar schemes in the Auckland area.