19 Jul 2016

West Papuans remain upbeat on MSG bid

11:15 am on 19 July 2016

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua accepts the decision by leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group to defer its bid for full membership.

At their summit in Honiara last week, MSG leaders said the group's secretariat needed to establish guidelines for membership and signalled that a decision should be reached on the bid by September.

Benny Wenda

Benny Wenda Photo: AFP

The Liberation Movement's spokesperson, Benny Wenda, said this could be seen as a delay tactic but his organisation acknowledged the technical issues highlighted by the MSG leaders and senior officials.

The issue of West Papua membership is increasingly divisive for the MSG's five full members.

Since the Liberation Movement was last year granted observer status, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and new Caledonia's FLNKS Kanaks movement have pushed for the West Papuans to get full membership.

However, Fiji and Papua New Guinea have resisted the push, amid strong lobbying by MSG associate member Indonesia which is opposed to the Liberation Movement.

Vanuatu's government has expressed disappointment at the outcome of last week's summit.

However the Liberation movement is remaining upbeat, describing the MSG's decision as progress to improving processes within the MSG.

It said there would be further discussion at the MSG meeting scheduled for Vanuatu's capital in September.

"We want to thank our Melanesian leaders and the chair and Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands for discussing and facilitating our application for full membership. Though disappointed, we remain optimistic to see our application further discussed in September in Port Vila, Vanuatu," said Mr Wenda.

"We the ULMWP would not come this far if it wasn't for the grassroots and Pacific leadership support and we call for more support as we work towards establishing a political voice for our people of West Papua."

ULMWP Secretary General, Octovianus Mote added that West Papuans are Melanesians and our issues of human rights abuse and self-determination must be rightfully addressed in the Pacific and not on Indonesia's terms.

Meanwhile, a Papua student leader in Yogyakarta in Indonesia said police bashed and tortured students last Friday to stop a march in support of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

The students' march was while the Melanesian Spearhead Group was considering whether the Movement could become a full member of the Pacific regional body.

But a spokesman for the Papuan Student Alliance, Yely Wenda, says hundreds of police burst into a West Papuan students' dormitory in Yogyakarta and began abusing and battering the students.

He said a number were arrested and beaten, and one student was tortured in police custody.

MSG membership guidelines had "flaws", said PNG

Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato said it was important that the Melanesian Spearhead Group sort out its guidelines around membership.

Mr Pato said the onus was on officials within the MSG secretariat to outline consistent guidelines around membership.

"This requires a definition as to what one must meet to be a member. That's under review at the moment. Our technical officials are still working on it. And for example, the draft that they came up with had flaws in it. There were so many inconsistencies, so all these things need to be polished up."

The PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato

The PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato Photo: Koro Vaka'uta / RNZ