This item was first published on The Interpreter on 16th July 2014

It hasn’t taken long for the West Papua National Council for Liberation (WPNCL) and other pro-independence groups to to respond to Melanesian Spearhead Group’s (MSG) recent announcement on the WPNCL’s membership application, made during the MSG summit in Port Moresby. And the response can be characterised as something of a ‘good news, bad news’ story.

The good news was that the WPNCL, with strong support from Marcus Haluk (Chairman for the Working Group of the all West Papua pro-independence organisations), announced that a conference of reconciliation would be held in Port Vila, Vanuatu at the end of  August.

The aim of this meeting is to put forward an application for membership of the MSG (here’s a primer on the Melanesian Spearhead  Group) by an umbrella group of all West Papuan people, as recommended by the MSG leaders in Port Moresby. The conference organisers have expressed their confidence that this new application will be ready by the end of the year.

The conference is being supported by the Vanuatu Council of Churches, the National Council of Chiefs and the government of Vanuatu. The conference chair is Pastor Alain Nafuki, who has already expressed his hope that the government of Indonesia will assist in facilitating the travel of delegates from West Papua to Port Vila. (This may be something of a vain hope as, despite what others may say about the importance of West Papua to Indonesia’s ‘Look East’ policy overall, there is no evidence to suggest that Jakarta will be a willing contributor to a pro-independence convocation being held in another country.)

The bad news is that hard on the heels of this announcement came the news that pro-Indonesia West Papua Autonomy campaigners, Franz Albert Joku and Nicholas Simion Messet, would not be invited to said conference.

This is not surprising, given the longstanding antipathy felt towards pro-Indonesia Melanesians by those who have advocated, lobbied and fought for the independence of West Papua for more than 50 years. However, this decision means the  conference may fail to meet the criteria contained in the Port Moresby communiqué, which states that MSG leaders…

Agreed to invite all groups to form an inclusive and united umbrella group in consultation with Indonesia to work on submitting a fresh application…(Emphasis added.)

Meanwhile, the government of Vanuatu has stated its intention to continue its lobbying for the self-determination of the people of West Papua through UN processes. Despite having accepted the group-think in Port Moresby, the Natuman government is maintaining the stance that sets Vanuatu apart from the other sovereign state members of the MSG.

Of course, Vanuatu has little to lose , as it no longer has a defence cooperation relationship with Indonesia and there is nowhere near the level of Indonesian investment in Vanuatu as is the case in other MSG countries, notably Fiji and PNG. And, perhaps more significantly, Vanuatu does not have PNG’s  financial resources to influence fellow members through provision of development assistance. Nonetheless, Vanuatu got the West Papua issue on to the agenda of the MSG and will undoubtedly do everything to ensure it remains there for as long as is needed or can be sustained.

Photo credit: Flickr/AK Rockefeller


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