18 Nov 2016

MSG secretariat pencils date for leaders summit

11:51 am on 18 November 2016

The director-general of the Melanesian Spearhead Group says the secretariat has a proposed date for a leaders summit to discuss West Papuan membership.

Leaders of Melanesian Spearhead Group gather for a meeting in Noumea, June 2013.

MSG members are yet to settle on a date for their summit. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Amena Yauvoli told Vanuatu media that 20 December is the proposed date for the summit in Port Vila, with the secretariat awaiting a consensus on the matter among members.

The meeting was postponed for a second time in early October, and the secretariat had since been unable to pin down a date that works for all leaders from the five full MSG members.

The five are Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia's FLNKS Kanaks Movement.

They are due to deliberate on an application for full membership by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua which is opposed by Indonesia.

The Liberation Movement was granted observer status in the MSG in 2015, while Indonesia is an associate member.

In a sign of the sensitivity around the issue within the MSG, leaders have this year deferred a number of summits where West Papuan membership was a priority item.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare

Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare, who is the current MSG chairman, has been instrumental in advancing the West papuan membership issue. Photo: RNZI

The annual MSG leaders summit was held in Honiara in July after several late changes of venue and date.

In Honiara, leaders deferred their decision on the Liberation Movement's application for full membership, saying adequate membership criteria had to be developed first.

Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai subsequently explained that since last year MSG membership criteria had been developed which did not reflect the group's founding principles.

Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and the FLNKS are understood to support the Liberation Movement for full membership, with PNG and Fiji inclining towards Jakarta's stand on the matter.

PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato (right) talking to his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi.

PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato (right) talking to his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi. Photo: Supplied

Amid frustrations with the availability of all members, reports have surfaced that the MSG could make a decision on Papuan membership if three of the five full members were present.

Meanwhile, according to Mr Yauvoli, as well as the membership matter, MSG leaders are required to meet in order to approve the secretariat's 2017 budget.

The secretariat has struggled with a lack of resourcing in recent years, with some full members not paying their full fee commitments.

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