Papua New Guinea

Indonesia Table of Contents

Since Papua New Guinea's independence in 1975, the 760- kilometer-long border between it and Indonesia's Irian Jaya Province was a focus for mutual suspicion. Indonesia sought through diplomacy and intimidation to prevent Papua New Guinea from becoming a cross-border sanctuary for OPM separatists. Port Moresby's policy on the border situation was conditioned by fears of Indonesian expansionism and sympathy for West Papuan efforts to defend their cultural identity against Indonesianization. The Papua New Guinea government was also keenly aware of the military imbalance between the two countries.

Talks to draw up a new agreement to regulate relations and define rights and obligations along the border culminated in the signing on October 27, 1986, of the Treaty of Mutual Respect, Cooperation, and Friendship. The treaty was, in effect, a bilateral nonaggression pact in which the two sides agreed to "avoid, reduce and contain disputes or conflicts between their nations and settle any differences that may arise only by peaceful means" (Article 2), and promised that they "shall not threaten or use force against each other" (Article 7). The treaty also provided a basis for building a lasting structure of peace and cooperation. The structure for peace was enhanced by the 1987 ASEAN decision to allow Papua New Guinea to become the first nonASEAN country to accede to the 1976 ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Indonesia continued in 1992, however, to block Papua New Guinea's access to full ASEAN membership although Papua New Guinea did have observer status.

The 1986 treaty left many issues unresolved. It did not solve, for example, the problem of Irian Jaya refugees in Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, Papua New Guinea did not agree to joint security operations in the border regions, and Indonesia did not give categorical assurance that its military, in all circumstances, would not cross the border. Criticism of Jakarta's policies in Irian Jaya persisted in Port Moresby. In addition, Indonesia was accused of covert intervention in Papua New Guinea domestic politics. Nevertheless, the tension and threat-filled atmosphere that clouded the first decade of bilateral relations was considerably dissipated. A new ten-year border agreement was signed in 1990. In January 1992, in the course of a state visit by Papua New Guinea prime minister Rabbie Namaliu, the defense ministers of the two countries signed a "status of forces" agreement regulating rights and obligations when on each other's territory. Although the two parties denied that the agreement provided for joint security operations, the possibility of rights for Indonesian "hot pursuit" seemed to exist. At that time, Namaliu, reviewing the course of relations since the 1986 treaty, said, "ties have never been better."

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress