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The world’s most ancient dog has just been re-discovered in the New Guinea Highland



Some of the wild dog sightings – Credit: NGHWDF

Jayapura, Jubi – After decades of fearing that the New Guinea highland wild dog had gone extinct in its native habitat, researchers have finally confirmed the existence of a healthy, viable population, hidden in one of the most remote and inhospitable regions on Earth.

According to DNA analysis, these are the most ancient and primitive canids in existence, and a recent expedition to New Guinea’s remote central mountain spine has resulted in more than 100 photographs of at least 15 wild individuals, including males, females, and pups, thriving in isolation and far from human contact.

“The discovery and confirmation of the highland wild dog for the first time in over half a century is not only exciting, but an incredible opportunity for science,” says the group behind the discovery, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF).

“The 2016 Expedition was able to locate, observe, gather documentation and biological samples, and confirm through DNA testing that at least some specimens still exist and thrive in the highlands of New Guinea.”

If you’re not familiar with these handsome creatures, until now, New Guinea highland wild dogs were only known from two promising but unconfirmed photographs in recent years – one taken in 2005, and the other in 2012.

Last year, a NGHWDF expedition made it to the Papua province of western New Guinea, which is bordered by Papua New Guinea to the east and the West Papua province to the west.

Led by zoologist James K McIntyre, the expedition ran into local researchers from the University of Papua, who were also on the trail of the elusive dogs.

Trail cameras were immediately deployed throughout the area, so they could monitor bait sites around the clock. The cameras captured more than 140 images of wild Highland Wild Dog in just two days on Puncak Jaya – the highest summit of Mount Carstensz, and the tallest island peak in the world.

NGHWD explains, “The fossil record indicates the species established itself on the island at least 6,000 years ago, believed to have arrived with human migrants. However, new evidence suggests they may have migrated independently of humans.

In all of the dogs observed so far, their ears sit erect and triangular on the top of the head.

According to the NGHWDF, there are roughly 300 New Guinea singing dogs remaining in the world, living in zoos, private facilities, and private homes, and they’re known for their high-pitched howls, which they will perform in chorus with one another, and sometimes for several minutes at a time:

The research into these amazing dogs is ongoing, and a scientific paper on the discovery is expected to be released in the coming months.(*)

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Editor     : Zely Ariane

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PMC director condemns ‘targeting’ of journalists and silence on West Papua





Activists, acdemics and journalists at the Pacific Media Centre WPFD seminar last night. Image: PMC

By Jean Bell

An alarming number of “targeted” journalists being killed and West Papua media for independence were just some of the topics covered in a wide-ranging seminar by the director of the Pacific Media Centre last night.

Professor David Robie called for the media, universities and journalism schools to take their Pacific “backyard” more seriously and not just wait for crises to happen.

The seminar was in marking May 3 – World Press Freedom Day. This year’s conference is in Accra, Ghana.

Dr Robie cited the number of journalists killed while working in 2017 and called journalism an increasingly “dangerous occupation”.

“Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) [Reporters Without Borders] statistics showed 65 journalists were killed worldwide in 2017,” Dr Robie said. Of the 65 journalists killed, 7 of these people were so-called citizen journalists.

This number of casualties varied between media freedom monitoring agencies depending on the definitions of journalists and media workers counted in the statistics, he said.

Although this statistic showed a drop from the previous year, the growth of “hatred” for media and targeting of journalists was a worsening problem.

“This is a dire situation that is getting worse.”

On top of the killings, the Paris-based statistics showed that 326 journalists were detained in prison and a further 54 were being held hostage.

Dr Robie said use of the term “citizen journalist” was problematic, as it gave an impression of untrained journalists working without an ethical basis. In fact, many professional journalists were becoming “citizen” journalists tactically and using social media to defeat mainstream media “gags” such as relating to the Melanesian region West Papua inside Indonesia.

“There are more and more independent journalists that are disillusioned” and publishing untold stories on their own blogs.

One such journalist is Papua New Guinea’s Scott Waide, with whom Pacific Media Centre is collaborating with, published many articles by independent journalists and civil society people on his blog My Land, My Country.

Dr Robie also talked about the latest RSF Press Freedom Index and its findings on the Asia-Pacific region.

A Filipino radio journalist, Edmond Sestoso, was shot last Monday – three days before Press Freedom Day – and died the next day. He was murdered in a drive-by scenario by a gunman on a motorcycle. According to Dr Robie, it is a “very common way of doing it” in the Philippines.

World Press Freedom Day 2017

In 2017, Dr Robie was invited to go to the week-long UNESCO World Press Freedom Day media conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.

He was one of just two New Zealanders at the conference out of the 1500 people attending the WPFD conference. He spoke at a journalist safety academic conference at WPFD but was also a guest keynote speaker at an alternative “Free Press in West Papua” conference organised by Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

Dr Robie said it was “astonishing” that there were not more people from New Zealand present at WPFD and said it showed how “appalling” New Zealand’s interest in international affairs was with an information gap in coverage of Asia-Pacific issues. The other New Zealander present was Mary Major, executive director of the New Zealand Media Council.

Dr Robie described the week as “challenging” and “inspiring”.

“I was representing AUT university and also entering a fraught situation.”

Independent Indonesian journalists were planning to protest against the treatment of West Papua and make a showcase stand before the world’s press, said Dr Robie.

At the WPFD, there was a tight military and police security cordon which kept out West Papua protesters and prevented conference participants from joining the protests in solidarity.

While en route to Jakarta, Dr Robie was also invited to speak at a conference hosted by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, the last investigative journalism unit at an Australian university. This was closing under protest after 25 years on the “frontline”.

He was able to address West Papua issues there too.

“I’m an educator and a journalist … I have a responsibility to share my knowledge with as many people as I can about issues,” said Dr Robie, who is author of Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, mayhem and human rights in the Pacific.

West Papua plight ‘censored’

Dr Robie discussed Facebook recently wrongly “censoring” a 1995 photo of an armed West Papuan OPM guerilla and fellow tribespeople in traditional nambas (penis sheaths), pointing to the Pacific Media Centre coverage that sparked an RNZ Mediawatch story on the issue.

Photojournalist Ben Bohane, who has extensively covered conflict issues in the Asia-Pacific region, wrote a two-page article in the Vanuatu Daily Post in response to a piece about China and Vanuatu by The Sydney Morning Herald that had speculated about a “naval base” plan for a wharf aid project at Luganville, Espiritu Santo. Dr Robie said the Australian article was “scaremongering.”

“Ben Bohane’s article argued China was not the real concern,” he said. “The real threat in terms of stability and security is Indonesia, for which New Zealand media have a blindspot.”

When the PMC republished the Bohane article on its current affairs website Asia Pacific Report, Facebook links were removed. “I got a message saying the picture breached Facebook’s community standards.” While the Facebook “block” did not affect the actual article itself, Dr Robie said it limited the reach of an important article.

Dr Robie said he believed the photo censorship had more to do with “politics” rather than “nudity” and was undoubtedly an attempt by Indonesian sources to curb the debate regarding West Papua.

“It is not the picture that is the real issue,” said Dr Robie. He quoted from Ben Bohane’s latest message saying the censorship was ongoing in spite of Facebook saying it had lifted the block.

It is not the first time Facebook has censored an iconic photo that illustrates dire situations in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr Robie pointed to how Mediawatch raised the issue of how the social media platform in 2016 censored images of the “napalm girl” taken during the Vietnam War in 1973. This caused an international storm of protest.

WPFD in Indonesia – an irony

Dr Robie pointed out the irony over Jakarta hosting the WPFD 2017 conference in light of censorship and repressive activities by security forces in West Papua.

According to Dr Robie, Indonesia has a vibrant “plurality” of voices but forces were seeking to radicalise people, along with targeting journalists.

While President Joko Widodo had changed policy in 2015 to “allow foreign journalists into” West Papua after he was elected in 2014, not much had really changed. Arrests and deportations were continuing.

“It’s very tightly controlled by the bureaucracy and security authorities,” said Dr Robie.

He highlighted the message from critics and researchers of a “secret genocide” in West Papua.

“The state of mainstream international media is a big part of how West Papua is ignored. There is a big difference when you watch some news media that take a more independent stance, such as Al Jazeera.”

He praised Al Jazeera’s Dutch journalist in Jakarta, Step Vaessen, for her coverage.

The penalties for showing support for West Papuan independence is severe – a 15-year prison sentence if you raise the banned Morning Star independence flag – even wearing a t-shirt like I am wearing tonight with the flag on can get you into trouble,” Dr Robie said.

“It is a very serious situation for West Papuans.”

“They believe their independence was declared in 1962 and despite that, Indonesian forces invaded.

“Western countries have become persuaded that West Papua has become part of Indonesia, making the situation a wrong that has never been righted.”

NZ media coverage

While the situation is still dire, there has been some sporadic New Zealand coverage of the West Papua situation, said Dr Robie.

New Zealander Karen Abplanalp, who researched journalist access into West Papua for her masters degree, assisted Māori Television in a reporting mission with Adrian Stevanon to West Papua in 2015. The crew had to “dress” up the assignment bid with the authorities by saying it was a cultural showcase and had a nice side report about a kumara aid project in the Highlands.

Johnny Blades and Koroi Hawkins from RNZ also visited West Papua that year and did a rare interview with Lukas Enembe, the governor of Papua.

Dr Robie said New Zealand media covered disasters, coups and cyclones, while ignoring many of the social justice and development stories that were “crying out to be covered” in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Universities have responsibilities to shed light through research,” concluded Dr Robie.

He called for Indonesia to genuinely “open the door” to journalists and non-government agencies to visit West Papua, and for a “real” UN referendum on self-determination for the Papuans.

Social justice activist Maire Leadbeater (right), author of a forthcoming book on West Papua, with “wantok” Melanesians at the Pacific Media Centre seminar last night. Image” Del Abcede/PMC
Peace and human rights activist Maire Leadbeater said the presentation was enlightening and covered many topics.

“It was great, I really enjoyed it. Dr Robie covered a lot of bases,” Leadbeater said.

Leadbeater is due to have a book published next month about the issue, See No Evil: New Zealand’s betrayal of the people of West Papua.

“The book will be a probe into New Zealand’s diplomacy that hasn’t been done before.” (*)



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China? No, let’s face the elephant in the Pacific room




Protesters for a free West Papua sing at New Zealand’s Parliament while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Indonesian President Joko Widodo were meeting recently – Screen grab from RNZ Pacific video

By Ben Bohane


China … China … China …

All the talk is of increasing Chinese influence in our region. But this is to wilfully see past the elephant in the room.

Contrary to most commentary, the biggest destabilising player in Melanesia over the past five years is not China but Indonesia, which through its “look east” policy has deliberately paralysed the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) while financing local MPs and political parties across the Pacific to try and stop snowballing regional support for West Papuan independence.

Indonesia already has Peter O’Neill onside in PNG, and Voreqe Bainimarama in Fiji, and is busy trying to neutralise Vanuatu, the Solomons and FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) leaders in New Caledonia, who are resisting Indonesian influence.

The reason Vanuatu and other Melanesian nations may be turning to China is because they are more worried about Indonesia, which has directly threatened Vanuatu over its strong diplomatic support for the West Papuans.

Vanuatu might be pulling some “muscle” into its corner, feeling it can’t rely on Australia because Canberra continues in its supine support of Indonesia whatever they do – even as Jakarta directly undermines Australian and Pacific island interests.

The accumulative “strategic failure” being talked of by Labour’s Richard Marles and others, is not because Australia has failed to check Chinese influence in Melanesia, but a result of Australia’s failure to check Indonesian interference in these nations that were supposed to be “our patch”.

For decades, islanders thought their “big brothers” Australia and America would defend Pacific peoples as they did in WWII. Instead, it appears Australia has outsourced its security of Melanesia to Indonesia, giving them free reign.

‘Melanesian nation’

Despite being a Melanesian nation itself through its own Torres Strait and South Sea Islander communities, strangely Australia has not sought to join the main political grouping of its own neighbourhood, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), which has now been hijacked by Indonesia with help from Fiji in particular; more blow-back from Canberra’s misguided attempts to isolate Fiji after the coup.


It is not lost on the region that while the Turnball government is warning about Chinese influence, senior members of his own party have been taking Chinese coin, from former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer spruiking for Huwei to recent Trade Minister Andrew Robb now working for the same Chinese company that controversially bought Darwin’s port.

Still, as examples like Sri Lanka demonstrate, Australia is right to flag concerns about strategic vulnerability that comes with excessive debt to China.

From a Melanesian perspective, the two biggest security issues they face are climate change and Indonesia’s increasing political interference across the Melanesian archipelago, rooted in its desire to hold onto West Papua.

Despite the mantra from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that Australia remains the “strategic partner of choice” for Vanuatu and the region, the fact is that Canberra is not listening to Melanesia’s own security concerns, but telling them what they should be concerned about, ie China.

This is not going down well and Melanesian nations are forging their own security arrangements with or without Australia, who they see as compromised when it comes to climate change and Indonesia.

In the past few months we have witnessed something of a “pincer movement”. In late December, RAAF jets were suddenly scrambled from Tindal air base near Darwin after a number of nuclear-capable Russian Tu 95 “Bear” bombers flew from Biak in West Papua, flying between Papua and Australia’s north for intelligence gathering purposes.

Russian bombers

It’s the first time Russian bombers have operated like this in the South Pacific and suggests Jakarta wanted to warn Australia and the US forces parked in Darwin that it too could bring some “muscle” into the neighbourhood. That message was likely aimed at China as much as Australia and the US.


Then last week, at the other end of Melanesia we have revelations about a potential Chinese military base in Vanuatu. The first thing to say is that it’s highly unlikely China would have asked for a military base – they are far too subtle to do that.

More likely is that they may be angling for something dressed up as a civilian project but with military applications, like the “space station” speculation floated in the Chinese press last week.

They have already built a lot of dual-use infrastructure in Vanuatu such as the big Santo wharf, so step by step, like their “salami-slicing” strategy in the South China Sea, they will move incrementally without wanting to frighten the horses.

Both of these pincer moves have their origin in West Papua’s situation. In some ways it reflects Paul Dibb’s reworking of Australian defence policy in the late 1980s to get beyond its Euro-centricity. Dibb offered a map with concentric circles emanating out from Darwin. The first circles cover East Timor and West Papua.

There are strategic consequences to Australia’s 50-year policy of not just turning a blind eye to Indonesia’s “slow-motion genocide” in West Papua, but active involvement through its Densus 88 anti-terror unit, which many Papuans accuse of not just targetting Islamic militants, but Papuan nationalists too.

At a time when Canberra is battling jihadis in the Middle East and the Philippines, it appears unconcerned by jihadi activity and Indonesian military collusion right on its doorstep, or a possible Prabowo government elected next year, backed by Islamist groups.

Bloody proxy militias

Those of us who witnessed Indonesia’s bloody use of proxy militias in East Timor have watched the same apparatus move to West Papua, with the same man – General Wiranto – still in charge.


It wasn’t always like this.

There was a time when the Menzies government in Australia supported Dutch plans for West Papuan independence throughout the 1950s and early 1960s until the US twisted arms to accept Indonesian control because of Cold War politics.

There was a time when the Australian Defence Force (ADF) worked with the PNGDF to actively secure its 800km border with Indonesia. Today the border is wide open and sources within PNGDF intelligence continue to complain that the Indonesian military routinely violate PNG sovereignty with their patrols, up to a dozen times per year, sometimes even moving the border marking pegs.

How can Australia be perceived as PNG’s security guarantor when it doesn’t even help them secure their primary border, especially with the growing threat of jihadi infiltration?

Why has the AFP been given priority over the ADF in terms of security across Melanesia? With no more engineering battalions or ADF army advisors present in camp, China has walked right in. The last ADF army adviser to Vanuatu, Major Paul Prickett, left 10 years ago and wasn’t replaced.

Many years ago I spent some time with Dick Hagen, a legendary coffee plantation manager in the Highlands of PNG, who has been there since the 1950s. He told me how in the 1960s and 70s, he and many Australians living in PNG were given basic military training so they could be a first response “militia” should the Indonesians come over the border and invade PNG.

For decades the PNG-Indonesia border was regarded as Australia’s real frontline. It was another potential “Kokoda” which didn’t happen, but Indonesia has found other ways to extend its reach.

Mohammed Hatta, one of the founding fathers of Indonesia, warned his nation against taking West Papua, saying Indonesia might not stop until it got to Fiji. That is now coming to pass. But ironically, it is China that will likely contain Indonesia’s expansion in the region, not Australia.

Some sort of deal?

I have the sense that some sort of deal was struck between Canberra and Jakarta back in the 1970s; that Australia would turn a blind eye to everything west of the border while Indonesia would not interfere in PNG and anything east of the border.


Australia has naively kept its part of the deal while Indonesia clearly has not. As a result, in the social media age when all the Pacific is now aware of climate change and what Indonesia continues to do in West Papua and beyond with tacit Australian support, Australia and the US are losing the moral – and actual – leadership of the region.

China is the result.

But it is worth remembering that Australia does much to support Melanesia in other important areas, has been a generous neighbour and will always be there for the islands in tough times. To the keyboard warriors on social media always blaming Australia for what has happened in West Papua, they would do well to understand the history; that it was US and UN decisions that sealed West Papua’s fate.

Australia and Holland initially supported their independence. Why would Australia again risk war with Indonesia over West Papua when Melanesians themselves have not united to bring the West Papuans fully into their family?

It was the MSG which let the wolf into their house, not Australia. As someone who was there in the first weeks of East Timor’s bloody liberation, amidst the burning buildings and bodies, it was an Australian-led coalition which secured East Timor. I remember wondering where are the Melanesian forces to assist and show solidarity? No PNGDF, no VMF or Fijian forces during the critical phase.

Australia must now find a strategic balance among its “frenemies” Indonesia and China. That begins with deeper engagement with the islands, leadership on climate change and working with Melanesian leaders to address their security concerns as much as Australia’s.

Only by listening and closer co-operation with Melanesian leaders can Australia assist with a robust defence of the Melanesian archipelago from Timor to Fiji and be seen as Melanesia’s “security partner of choice”. (


Ben Bohane is a photojournalist and television producer based in Vanuatu who has specialised in reporting war and religion for nearly 30 years across Asia and the Pacific. He has been a frequent contributor to the Pacific Media Centre over the years.

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West Papua’s enduring struggle for independence




Benny Wenda. – Jubi/Doc

By Giacomo Tognini

The next two years could prove to be transformative for Melanesia, a region of Pacific islands spanning from Papua in the west to Fiji in the east. Two votes on independence, scheduled in 2018 and 2019, could bring two new nations into the fold and shake up the politics of a region where decolonization is still a pressing matter.

One more long-running movement hopes to join their ranks: the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), which seeks independence for the Indonesian-controlled western half of the island. Unlike their neighbors in French New Caledonia and the Papuan island of Bougainville, there is little prospect of a free vote for West Papuans.

In an unprecedented effort organized by ULMWP leader Benny Wenda, activists in West Papua and among the diaspora worked to collect 1.8 million signatures throughout West Papua’s two provinces for an independence petition to be presented to the United Nations last September. Despite receiving the backing of over 70% of West Papua’s population, the effort to gain a seat at the UN Decolonization Committee failed — it won the support of only eight countries, all of them small Caribbean and Pacific island states.

“I think the Indonesian government will increase its efforts to block the ULMWP,” says Jakarta-based Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono. “This could range from increasing bilateral cooperation with Melanesian states to threatening to boycott some businesses over their support for West Papua.”

Indonesia’s Papuan provinces were incorporated into the country in 1969, when Indonesian authorities held a widely disputed referendum that ended seven years of UN administration following the departure of the Dutch colonial regime. An on-and-off conflict with local separatists of various stripes has endured since then, with the Indonesian military accused of atrocities amounting to genocide against the Papuan population.

Political prisoners

The Indonesian authorities aggressively prosecute any actions deemed supportive of independence, including jailing activists for raising West Papua’s “Morning Star” flag. The election of Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, to the Indonesian presidency in 2014 raised hopes of a thaw in the conflict. He promised to lift restrictions that forbade journalists from visiting the region on the campaign trail, but those hopes have largely been dashed.

While he did lift the bans, it is still difficult for reporters to access West Papua. Jakarta released several high-profile prisoners that had been in jail for years, but authorities still imprisoned up to 8,000 Papuans in mass temporary arrests over the last two years. Political prisoners like 27-year-old Yanto Awerkion, who was arrested last May in the coastal city of Timika while collecting signatures for the ULMWP petition, remain in jail with uncertain prospects for release.

“Jokowi would probably like to see these political prisoners released, but there have been more mass arrests,” says Dr. Jim Elmslie, co-founder of the West Papua Project at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. Harsono agrees, pointing out that the number of annual arrests has risen well into the thousands under the Jokowi administration.

War & peace

Activists fighting for independence in West Papua have operated under a variety of different armed and peaceful groups since 1969. While going through several periods of internal division, most have long operated under the umbrella of the Free Papua Movement, also known by its Indonesian acronym, OPM.

Activists fighting for independence in West Papua have operated under a variety of different armed and peaceful groups since 1969

The OPM’s armed wing, known as the TPN-PB, has long engaged in a low-level insurgency against the Indonesian military and police. Another target of its attacks has been the Phoenix-based mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which operates the enormous Grasberg gold and copper mine in the region’s western mountains. Indigenous Papuans living in nearby towns have long protested that they see receive little of the lucrative wealth produced, which instead finds its way to Freeport or officials in Jakarta.

The armed conflict escalated towards the end of 2017, when deadly clashes in November were followed by the Indonesian military accusing the TPN-PB of occupying several villages near Grasberg one month later. After the death of a leading TPN-PB commander in September, the group released a formal “declaration of war” against Indonesia in February this year.

“The TPN-PB stole two powerful guns from the Indonesian military near the mine in 2016,” says Elmslie. “That’s when the attacks started increasing, and after they declared war they blocked the road leading to the mine in Tembagapura.”

Melanesian support

The leaders behind the petition campaign brought together several disparate groups after the 2011 Papuan People’s Congress, going on to form the ULMWP three years later and enabling them to form a united front for the independence effort.

Its biggest platform for international support has been the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a regional forum for Melanesian countries. Citing the increased profile that MSG membership gave the FLNKS, a pro-independence party in New Caledonia, the ULMWP was granted observer status at the MSG summit in 2015 — but so was Indonesia, which became an associate member.

After presenting the independence petition to the UN, ULMWP leader Wenda renewed his efforts to gain full membership at the MSG summit in Port Moresby last February. Wenda gave a speech to leaders at the event, highlighting the movement’s progress on reforms demanded by the MSG before granting full membership. But with the Indonesian government placing its diplomatic weight behind regional allies like Fiji, the membership application was shelved for the foreseeable future.

RBP“The West Papuan people continue to suffer brutality at the hands of oppressors every day,” said Wenda in a statement released before his speech. “We call on Melanesian leaders to acknowledge our political aspirations, to hear this cry for freedom.” (Asia Times:

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