Monday, January 3, 2022

‘Secret plots’, sovereignty and covid challenges face Pacific for New Year


Independence and self-determination in the Pacific ... contrasting referendum experiences
between Bougainville, Kanaky New Caledonia and West Papua.
IMAGE: Screenshot of the Kanak flag in Middle East Eye

ANALYSIS: By David Robie in Auckland

THE PACIFIC year has closed with growing tensions over sovereignty and self-determination issues and growing stress over the ravages of covid-19 pandemic in a region that was largely virus-free in 2020.

Just two days before the year 2021 wrapped up, Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama took the extraordinary statement of denying any involvement by the people or government of the autonomous region of Papua New Guinea being involved in any “secret plot” to overthrow the Manasseh Sogavare government in Solomon Islands.

Insisting that Bougainville is “neutral” in the conflict in neighbouring Solomon Islands where riots last month were fuelled by anti-Chinese hostilities, Toroama blamed one of PNG’s two daily newspapers for stirring the controversy.

“Contrary to the sensationalised report in the Post-Courier (Thursday, December 30, 2021) we do not have a vested interest in the conflict and Bougainville has nothing to gain from overthrowing a democratically elected leader of a foreign nation,” Toroama said.

The frontpage report in the Post-Courier appeared to be a beat-up just at the time Australia was announcing a wind down of the peacekeeping role in the Solomon Islands.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Kanaky New Caledonia vote to stay with France is a hollow victory - it will only rachet up tensions

"Keeping the peace" ... French police in Noumea for the third and final independence
referendum yesterday. IMAGE: Caledonia TV screenshot APR

“Loyalist” New Caledonians handed France the decisive victory in the third and final referendum on independence it wanted in Sunday’s vote.

But it was a hollow victory, with pro-independence Kanaks delivering Paris a massive rebuke for its three-decade decolonisation strategy.

The referendum is likely to be seen as a failure, a capture of the vote by settlers without the meaningful participation of the Indigenous Kanak people. Pacific nations are unlikely to accept this disenfranchising of Indigenous self-determination.

In the final results on Sunday night, 96.49 per cent said “non” to independence and just 3.51 per cent “oui”. This was a dramatic reversal of the narrow defeats in the two previous plebiscites in 2018 and 2020.

However, the negative vote in this final round was based on 43.9 per cent turnout, in contrast to record 80 per cent-plus turnouts in the two earlier votes. This casts the legitimacy of the vote in doubt, and is likely to inflame tensions.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Betrayal of Kanaky decolonisation by Paris risks return to dark days

Flashback to turmoil in the wake of the 2018 independence referendum in New Caledonia
... is France risking more violence? IMAGE: APR screenshot ABC


AFTER three decades of frustratingly slow progress but with a measure of quiet optimism over the decolonisation process unfolding under the Noumea Accord, Kanaky New Caledonia is again poised on the edge of a precipice.

Two out of three pledged referendums from 2018 produced higher than expected – and growing — votes for independence. But then the delta variant of the global covid-19 pandemic hit New Caledonia with a vengeance.

Like much of the rest of the Pacific, New Caledonia with a population of 270,000 was largely spared during the first wave of covid infections. However, in September a delta outbreak infected 12,343 people with 280 deaths – almost 70 percent of them indigenous Kanaks.

With the majority of the Kanak population in traditional mourning – declared for 12 months by the customary Senate, the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) and its allies pleaded for the referendum due this Sunday, December 12, to be deferred until next year after the French presidential elections.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Raising West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag – a global act of solidarity

Dr Emalani Case speaking at the December 1 West Papuan virtual flag raising in
Wellington, New Zealand. IMAGE: APR screenshot

Asia Pacific Report

FROM Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau in Aotearoa New Zealand to Paris, France, and from Wellington Te Whanganui-a-Tara to Jayapura and far beyond, thousands of people across the world today raised the Morning Star flag — banned by Indonesian authorities — in simple acts of defiance and solidarity with West Papuans.

They honoured the raising of the flag for the first time 60 years ago on 1 December 1961 as a powerful symbol of the long West Papua struggle for independence.

One of the first flag-raising events today was in Wellington where Peace Movement Aotearoa and Youngsolwara Pōneke launched a virtual ceremony online with most participants displaying the banned flag.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Journalism education ‘truth’ challenges in an age of growing hate, intolerance and disinformation


Four months ago Papua New Guinean journalists had been warning about increasing tensions over misinformation about COVID vaccines and a lack of clear communication from health authorities.
IMAGE: Screenshot Guardian Pacific Project


IN RESPONSE to the escalating COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in mid-February 2020 came a warning by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Secretary-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom, who declared that “we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic”. He added that fake news “spreads faster and more easily than this virus” .

The following month, in March 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres identified the “new enemy” as a “growing surge of disinformation”. However, the term “disinfodemic” – which I much prefer – was adopted by the authors of a policy brief for UNESCO to describe the “falsehoods fuelling the pandemic”.

This disinfodemic has been rapidly leading to upheavals in many countries – including in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand in the weeks with protests, civil disobedience and attacks on health officials, medical staff and frontline workers.

Such assaults and violent confrontations have taken particular nasty turns in some of our neighbouring microstates of the South Pacific – notably Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the largest countries and biggest economies in the region.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Timor-Leste’s ‘true hero’ cameraman Max Stahl who exposed Indonesian atrocities dies

In this video — one of several made while he was guest speaker at the Pacific Journalism Review’s 20th anniversary conference in Auckland in 2014 — Max Stahl talks about the betrayal of West Papua. Video: Pacific Media Centre


Filmmaker and journalist Max Stahl, 66, has died almost 30 years after capturing images of the Indonesian massacre at Santa Cruz cemetery in the Timor-Leste capital Dili, which helped accelerate the country’s struggle for independence.

By coincidence, he died on the same day in 1991 as Sebastião Gomes, the young man who was buried in Santa Cruz and whose death led to the protest that ended in the Santa Cruz Massacre.

More than 2000 people went to Santa Cruz to pay tribute to Gomes, who was killed by Indonesian-backed militia in the Motael neighbourhood.


Filmmaker Max Stahl speaking to the 20th anniversary of Pacific Journalism Review
in Auckland in 2014. Image: Del Abcede/APR

The atrocity by the Indonesian military was secretly filmed by Max Stahl and footage smuggled out of the country. International attention on East Timor dramatically changed as a result.

At the graveyard, the Indonesian military opened fire on the crowd, killing 74 people at the scene. Over the next few days, more than 120 young people died in hospital from their wounds or as a result of the crackdown by occupying forces.

Most bodies were never recovered.

Born on 6 December 1954 in the United Kingdom, journalist and documentary maker Christopher Wenner, better known as Max Stahl, began his ties to the country in 1991 when he managed to enter East Timor for the first time.

He became a Timorese citizen in 2019.

Hiding among the graves
On November 12, hiding among the graves of Santa Cruz cemetery, he filmed the massacre — one of many during the Indonesian occupation of the country. Images were circulated  around the world’s media and this changed history.

Decorated with the Order of Timor-Leste, the highest award given to foreign citizens in the country, the Rory Peck Prize for filmmakers, and several other rewards, Max Stahl leaves as a legacy the main archives of images from the last years of the Indonesian occupation of the country.

The Max Stahl Audiovisual Center in Timor-Lete (CAMSTL) contains thousands of hours of video documentary, including extended interviews with key actors in the Timorese struggle for independence.

The archive was adopted by UNESCO for the World Memory Register and has been used for teaching and research on Timor’s history under the framework of cooperation between the University of Coimbra, the National University of East Timor and CAMSTL.

The original 1991 Dili massacre footage by Max Stahl. Video: Journeyman Pictures

Stahl studied literature at the University of Oxford and he was a fluent speaker of several languages, including the two official languages of East Timor — Portuguese and Tetum.

He began his career writing for theatre and children’s television shows. However, he found his calling as a war correspondent when he lived with his family. At the time his father was ambassador to El Salvador where Stahl reported on the civil war between 1979 and 1992.

Stahl covered other conflicts such as those of Georgia, former Yugoslavia and East Timor (from 30 August 1991), where he arrived as a “tourist” at the invitation of resistance groups.

“The king is dead. With great sadness, I write to inform you that Max passed away this morning.”

— Max Stahl’s wife Dr Ingrid Brucens

Historic resistance leaders
Throughout his long ties to East Timor, where he lived until he had to travel recently to Australia for medical treatment, he interviewed historic resistance leaders such as Nino Konis Santa, David Alex and others.

Santa Cruz and the 12 November 1991 massacre made the name Max Stahl known internationally with his images exposing the barbarism of the Indonesian occupation.

In Portugal, the images made a special impact — both through the brutality of the violence portrayed and because the survivors gathered in the small chapel of Santa Cruz, praying in Portuguese while listening to the bullets being fired by the Indonesian military and police.

The 1999 referendum prompted Max Stahl to return to East Timor when he covered the violence before the referendum and after the announcement of independence victory. He also accompanied families on the flight to the mountains.

News of Max Stahl’s death on Wednesday at a Brisbane hospital quickly became the most commented subject on social media in East Timor, prompting condolences from several personalities during the struggle for independence.

In statements to Lusa news agency, former President José Ramos-Horta described Max Stahl’s death as a “great loss” to Timor-Leste and the world. He said it would cause “deep consternation and pain” to the Timorese people.

“Someone like Max, with a big heart, with a great dedication and love for East Timor … [has been] taken to another world,” he told Lusa.

Dr Ingrid Brucens, Max Stahl’s wife, and who was with him and the children in Brisbane, announced his death to friends.

“The king is dead. With great sadness, I write to inform you that Max passed away this morning,” she wrote in messages to friends.

Antonio Sampaio is the Lusa correspondent in Dili.

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