Report – By Stefan Armbruster in Honiara
Melanesian nations have taken the lead in trying to broker a peaceful future for Indonesia’s contested West Papuan provinces.
Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia’s FLNKS took the step at the 20th Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) summit in Honiara.
Since Indonesia took over the former Dutch colony in the 1960s, there has been a brutal conflict in West Papua that is estimated to have cost hundreds-of-thousands of lives.
The MSG leaders gave the West Papuan independence movement observer status, rejecting an application for full membership.
Indonesia has been an observer since 2011 and was upgraded to associated membership at the summit.
“The leaders approved the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) as an observer member under the regional and international category representing West Papuans living abroad,” said Solomon Islands prime minister and MSG chair Manasseh Sogavare.
“Associate membership is accorded to Indonesia representing the five Melanesian provinces in Indonesia. I have the greatest pleasure in welcoming them.”
The West Papuans were hoping for full membership of the MSG but accept observer status as a first step.
The Indonesians will be represented at the MSG by the governors of its “five” Papuan provinces – these are not named and there were only two provinces in the West Papuan region.
“Building a strong Melanesia in the Pacific is certainly a desire for our every member country,” said PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill.
“But ensuring this is done through a process where peace, progress and prosperity is ensured and sustained for all is a little bit more complicated.
“In this respect, this MSG meeting is one of the most important in the history of the group, particularly in ensuring the participation of all Melanesian people living in the provinces of Indonesia.”
With their first-ever diplomatic recognition, the West Papuans wasted no time at the summit, also attended by Indonesia’s deputy foreign minister, to highlight their struggle.
“For 53 years we struggled on our own against the colonial ruler Indonesia,” said Octovianus Mote, secretary general of the ULMWP.
“For 53 years we have endured the most severe human rights violations, torture, killing rape, arbitrary detention. The lives of at least 500,000 have been taken.
“We might not be a full member of the MSG, but a door has opened to us. As observers, the MSG effectively recognised us as a country in waiting.”
Indonesia bitterly opposed the West Papuan application, saying it is the only true representative of its citizens.
“The MSG in 2007 state that MSG members fully respect the principles of international law governing relations between nations, including the principle of sovereignty, the equality of independence of all states and the non-interference in the domestic affairs of states,” Indonesia’s deputy foreign minister Dr A.M. Fachir told summit leaders.
“Let me assure you that Indonesia’s membership will bring benefits to each and every member of our esteemed organisation.”
Fiji backed Indonesia
Fiji’s prime minister spoke in support of Indonesia, after overseeing their entry into the MSG as observers in 2011.
“Fiji is convinced this is not just the only way to improve the situation for our Melanesian brothers and sisters in the West Papua, it is the only way,” said Voreqe Bainimarama.
“We also hope that as time progresses that those West Papuans that are outside Indonesia can become part of that engagement.
“We acknowledge that the United Liberation Movement of West Papua represents a significant body of opinion in the West Papua diaspora and also has the welfare of the West Papuan people at heart.”
The West Papuan and Indonesian status also means others like Australia’s Melanesian Torres Strait islanders can now also apply for membership.
West Papuans said they would again seek full-membership at the next Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in two years time.