July 10, 2014

There's been mixed reaction to the Melanesian Spearhead Group's decision on a bid by a West Papuan group to become a member.


There's a mixed reaction to the Melanesian Spearhead Group's response to a membership application by West Papuans. At their recent summit in Port Moresby MSG leaders agreed to work more proactively with Jakarta on addressing development needs of the indigenous Melanesians of Indonesia's Papua region. However the MSG has rejected a formal membership bid by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation.

The coalition lodged its application over a year ago. However the MSG postponed its decision on the application pending a report from an MSG Foreign Ministers fact-finding mission to Indonesia's Papua region in January. Vanuatu boycotted that trip because it felt the mission's programme would not allow the MSG to obtain credible information to fulfill the MSG Leader's mandate, around making a decision on the membership bid. The Foreign Ministers were in Papua province for a matter of hours. One of them, Clay Forau of Solomon Islands, says he came away with a distinct impression of a region developing well.


"CLAY FORAU: As far as we are concerned, in West Papua, the West Papuans they are looking after themselves. They have a government that is run by West Papuans. And I think we are seeing greater development of democracy in West Papua to them looking after themselves, governing themselves."
Following the Foreign Minister's findings the MSG has called for a bid by a more "inclusive and united" West Papuan group. Vanuatu's Prime Minister Joe Natuman says this means the coalition will have to go back to the drawing board. However he has reservations about the veracity of the Foreign Minister's report.

"JOE NATUMAN: Well I mean this is what the Foreign Ministers said in their findings, their so-called findings... it's hard to believe but that's what they said. Although they spent less than a couple of hours in Jayapura and they came out with this report. I thought it was not fairly representative of what the West Papuans wanted. But that was the consensus. So, if there are groupings there, then we have to bring them together. we are proposing that we bring them together in Port Vila or Port Moresby. This umbrella grouping, they can give themselves a name and then submit a fresh application to become associated with the MSG."
But others have seen much to be positive about in the MSG's current moves on West Papua. The governor of Papua New Guinea's National Capital District, Powes Parkop, says the MSG's openness to a new West Papuan application is an encouraging step for the cause of West Papuan rights. He says he's confident the conditions will be met.

"POWES PARKOP: For the people of West Papua it's like when the Americans landed on the moon. Big giant step that of course will not solve everything in one go but hopefully will open the doors to the ultimate desire of our people."
Meanwhile, the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation is yet to make a formal statement on the response. This group could play a central role in the new MSG membership bid, although this is by no means guaranteed. One of the main aims for the Coalition's bid was that the struggle for West Papuan self-determination and recognition of their basic rights be given prominence at the international level. This appears to have been achieved, although the coalition has hinted that its work has only just begun.

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