People still slipping across Indonesian border, says PNG governor
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By RNZ Pacific

The governor of Papua New Guinea’s West Sepik province says people are still defying the official border closure and crossing into Indonesia.

Vanimo, the capital of PNG’s West Sepik province, a gateway into Indonesia’s Papua Province and its capital Jayapura

Papua New Guinea closed its border with the neighbouring country three months ago in an effort to stop the spread of the covid-19 coronavirus, of which there has been a surge of cases in Indonesia’s Papua province.

READ MORE: West Papua’s highway of blood – destruction not development

Governor Tony Wouwou said West Sepik acted early, with awareness campaigns and the deployment of a rapid response team, to implement public restrictions.

But he said there were still not enough security forces to stop people, particularly PNG vanilla traders, crossing the border through the jungle.

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“In the sea as well too. Normally they go through at night time to do their vanilla trading,” he said.

“Though we have personnel staying in Vanimo – Defence Force and police – we still don’t have enough man forces to ensure we secure our borders.”

Dozens stranded in Jayapura
Meanwhile, dozens of Papua New Guinean citizens stranded in neighbouring Indonesia were waiting approval from the Emergency Controller to be repatriated.

Up to 120 citizens, mainly people recently released from prison, had been stuck for weeks in Jayapura, the capital of the Indonesian-administered Papua province, pending permission to be transferred by authorities across the nearby border to PNG’s West Sepik province

Papua New Guinea showing border with Indonesia's Papua region
A map of Papua New Guinea showing the border with Indonesia’s West Papua region. Image: RNZ

Governor Wouwou said the stranded PNG citizens were still waiting for the PNG Controller, Police Commissioner David Manning, to give the green light for them to cross the border.

“So that is what we are looking for now, waiting for him to give his approval. Once we have approval in order, then we might as well ask the Indonesian government to bring them across to the border and we’ll pick them up from there,” Wouwou said.

“By next week, we should be done,” he said, adding that it was expected that Indonesian health officials would only allow the PNG citizens to cross the border after clearing tests for covid-19.

On the PNG side, they were expected to go into mandatory 14-day quarantine in Vanimo.

Wouwou said that they would be quarantined in two houses, with the group coming across in smaller groups over staggered phases to prevent overcrowding.

While provincial resources were stretched to cope with the exercise, Wouwou said West Sepik was waiting on funding from PNG’s national government.

  • This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.
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