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Pacific News Minute: West Papua Rebel Forces Unite to Reinforce Bid for Independence

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This week, the political organization leading the fight for independence in West Papua announced that three rebel groups have agreed to join forces as a united West Papua Army. But one of those groups disputes the claim.

Benny Wenda, the Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, said the three rebel armies have agreed to unite under the ULM's banner.

"Politically and militarily, we are united now," a statement reads. "The international community can see now without a doubt that we are ready to take over our country."

Camellia Webb-Gannon, an expert on West Papua at the University of Wollongong, told Australia's ABC the announcement marks a significant change.

"For the first time," she said, "the armed wing has said that we are going to answer to the political movement."

But RNZ Pacific reports that one of the three groups, the West Papua Liberation Army, declared it was not part of the ULM, and described Benny Wenda's statement as "fabrications and lies."

Last December, fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army massacred 16 Indonesian construction workers building a highway through the Central Highlands, which triggered a military response from Indonesia that's displaced tens of thousands of people in Nduga regency.

RNZ Pacific also reports that the push to unify the rebel groups under civilian control came from Vanuatu, the ULM's biggest international sponsor.

Vanuatu will not attend a meeting in Auckland, New Zealand next week sponsored by Indonesia. Jakarta is paying the expenses for Pacific countries to attend what it calls a "business and trade exposition" that's part of its diplomatic effort to quash regional support for West Papua.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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