Pacific News Minute: West Papua Independence Group Tested at Melanesian Summit

Jun 22, 2015

Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2009 - West Papua Delegation
Credit vintagedept / Flickr

A political summit in the Solomon Islands this week faces a difficult decision on an application for membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group from the United Liberation Movement of West Papua. The western half of New Guinea is currently a province of Indonesia, which opposes any recognition for the ULM.  We have details from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Formed 25 years ago to promote trade and common interests, the Melanesian Spearhead Group set a precedent when it admitted the Kanak Independence movement as the representative of New Caledonia.  Now West Papua wants recognition, membership would give the group a forum to air grievances over human rights abuses and project the issue of independence.

Indonesia, which counts millions of ethnic Melanesians among its population, has observer status in the MSG and wields tremendous economic, military and diplomatic influence particularly with Fiji and Papua New Guinea, which have both indicated that they will oppose the West Papuan appeal.  The Kanak movement, known by its French Acronym, FLNKS, is in favor and up till last week anyway, so was Vanuatu.  Prime Minister Joe Naumann, a champion of West Papuan independence lost a vote of no confidence.  The new PM, Sato Kilman has been close to Indonesia in the past.  The Secretary General of the United Liberation Movement flew to Port Vila over the weekend to meet with the new government and told reporters that he's confident of Vanuatu's vote.  If that's accurate, the decision could be up to the host of this week's summit…Manasseh Sogavare, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands who hasn't said which way he'll vote.  The Melanesian Spearhead group could also decide to grant West Papua observer status rather than full membership, or decide not to vote at all.