MSG leaders to discuss membership matters

2:04 pm on 12 February 2018

Leaders of Melanesian Spearhead Group member states are to deliberate on long-pending membership matters this week in Port Moresby.

Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama listens to a speech at the plenary session of the Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders summit in Noumea in 2013.

Fiji's prime minister Frank Bainimarama is expected to join other MSG leaders for discussions at the Port Moresby summit. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Papua New Guinea's prime minister Peter O'Neill, who is taking on the MSG chairmanship, is hosting the leaders in his country's capital.

Leaders of all the other independent Melanesian states are expected to join Mr O'Neill for this week's summit. This includes Fiji's Frank Bainimarama, Rick Hou of Solomon Islands and Vanuatu's Charlot Salwai. New Caledonia's FLNKS Kanaks Movement, is represented by Victor Tutugoro.

They are due on Wednesday to discuss criteria for membership guidelines that leaders asked the secretariat for clarification on in 2016. Their request stemmed from an impasse on whether to accept a bid for full membership in the group by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

The Liberation Movement already has observer status in the group. But sources within the MSG suggest the group is not about to give the West Papuans full membership.

Mr O'Neill was staying quiet on the matter ahead of the summit, yet indicated that matters pending since 2016 within the MSG would be considered.

"The MSG is an important forum for our region with a number of significant issues on the agenda that matter to our people and communities," he said in a statement.

But it's understood that Indonesia, which has associate member status at the group and has lobbied strongly to oppose the Liberation movement's bid, has the support of Fiji and PNG.

However, on the eve of the summit, the Liberation Movement remained outwardly confident that the MSG would gain full membership.

"The time is right to see the Melanesian community welcome their brothers and sisters in West Papua as equals," said Benny Wenda, the Movement's chairman who appealed to activists and solidarity groups in PNG to voice their support to his group at this time.

Benny Wenda, Wellington, 10 May 2017.

Benny Wenda, Wellington, 10 May 2017. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

Mr Wenda also appealed to Melanesian leaders to remember the MSG's founding principles of advocating for the right to self-determination of all Melanesians.

"We call on them now to also acknowledge the political aspirations of the West Papuan people, who have, in vast numbers expressed their will for self-determination and assistance from the international community, via their petition to the United Nations."

In other matters, MSG leaders would be considering the renewed policy, work programme and budget outlook for the coming two years under Mr O'Neill's chairmanship.

According to the MSG secretariat's director-general Amena Yauvoli, leaders would also pore over reports on PNG's 2017 National Elections, an Arms Trade Treaty and another on MSG member states' inshore fisheries.

Following senior officials sessions at the weekend, meetings of MSG foreign ministers today and tomorrow will precede the leaders summit proper on Wednesday.

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