Pacific News Minute: Melanesian Spearhead Summit Postponed as Deep Split Emerges Over West Papua

May 5, 2016

Credit AK Rockefeller / Flickr

Reports from West Papua say that nearly all of the 1,700 protesters arrested earlier this week have been released.  There were rallies in all the major cities in support of the United Liberation Movement, which has been pushing for a referendum on independence from Indonesia...we have more from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

The five countries in the Melanesian Spearhead Group were scheduled to meet in Port Vila this week, with West Papua at the top of the agenda.  Now, the summit's been postponed for at least a month as Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Kanak Liberation Front try to bridge a deep split.

Two years ago, several West Papuan groups formed the United Liberation Movement as an umbrella organization to take their case to the world, beginning with their Melanesian brethren. Indonesia, which has ruled the western half of New Guinea since 1963, rejects any discussion of the issue as interference in its internal affairs, and, in the context of South West Pacific islands, Indonesia is an economic and military powerhouse.

Last year, the Melanesian Spearhead Group papered over its divisions by elevating Indonesia to associate membership, while granting West Papua observer status at the same time.  This year, Indonesia's been lobbying hard for full membership ...and so have the West Papuans, who also want Indonesia voted out.

Vanuatu and the Kanaks of New Caledonia back the West Papuans...Fiji and Papua New Guinea support Indonesia... The Solomon Islands tends to support Indonesia, but popular support for Melanesian solidarity is strong, and grows with every report of abuse by Indonesian authorities.  Last month, an Indonesian human Rights organization called Kontras reported that 1,200 West Papuan activists had been harassed, killed or tortured last year.