27 May 2016

MSG chair denies claims of lack of commitment

11:00 am on 27 May 2016

The chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group has denied a media suggestion that he is not committed to the upcoming special leaders' summit.

Manasseh Sogavare, who is also Solomon Islands' prime minister, has singled out the Pacific Islands News Association for an item claiming he would not be attending the upcoming MSG summit.

The suggestion by PINA's item that leaders were not giving serious attention to the MSG summit has been strongly rejected by Mr Sogavare.

Manasseh Sogavare

Manasseh Sogavare Photo: RNZI

The MSG summit, which was originally scheduled for Port Vila at the start of the month, was postponed at the last minute.

This has been attributed from various parties to either a brief period of instability in Solomon Islands politics or the busy schedule for leaders of MSG full members: Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia's FLNKS Kanaks movement.

In the last week or so the summit was re-scheduled for this weekend in Papua New Guinea's capital by PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill.

However the MSG chairman is unable to be in Port Moresby at this time as the Solomons parliament is still in session.

Furthermore, Mr O'Neill is in Japan to attend the G7 summit in PNG's capacity as an outreach country.

Mr Sogavare's office proposed that the MSG summit be held from the 29th of May to the 1st of June.

However, Mr O'Neill reportedly told the MSG Chair that these dates would be unsuitable for PNG due to commitments next week as host of an African, Caribbean and Pacific group summit in Port Moresby around the same time.

Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby

Efforts to hold the MSG summit in Port Moresby will have to fit in around next week's African, Caribbean and Pacific group summit there. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The office of the MSG Chair said it would be consulting with leaders on new dates and venue for the special leaders' summit.

However the schedule changes, and uncertainty around the date of the summit, have added to perceptions of disharmony within the MSG.

It remains unclear why the summit venue was shifted from Vanuatu to PNG.

However there has been clear discord over two issues expected to be addressed at the upcoming summit.

One is the MSG chair's well-publicised frustration over Indonesia's response to the MSG's deep concerns about West Papua, a sentiment which other MSG members have echoed.

The other issue is the premature announcement of Fiji diplomat Amena Yauvoli as the new Director General of the MSG, something which PNG and Vanuatu took exception to.

However Mr Sogavare said there was no question as to his and other leaders' commitment to attending the MSG Summit as there were important agendas to be discussed.

These include the motion by Vanuatu for the granting of full MSG membership to the United Liberation Movement of West Papua.