Leaders of Melanesian nations will Thursday decide whether a West Papuan liberation movement umbrella group will be granted diplomatic status equal to Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and even Indonesia.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) last year granted the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) observer status, giving them their first diplomatic recognition since Indonesia’s takeover of the Dutch colony in the 1960s.


At the same meeting, also in Honiara, Indonesia was upgraded to associate member status but the country has no voting rights.

The ULMWP has now applied for full membership.

Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are strong supporters of the West Papuan cause, while Fiji and PNG last year opposed their membership bid.

New Caledonia’s Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) independence group is a non-state member of the MSG and has traditionally supported the West Papuans.

Hundreds of Solomon Islanders supporting West Papua marched through the capital on Thursday morning and are holding an all day festival.

West Papuan independence groups have fought a decades-long, bloody conflict with Indonesia that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Concerns about human rights abuses by Indonesia in its Papuan provinces are regularly raised, including in June at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva at a forum by UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association Maina Kiai.

Jakarta has set up a team to investigate historical human rights abuses in Papua.

By recognising the ULMWP, the MSG has led international efforts to open talks between the West Papuan group and Indonesia over its provinces.

Last month, Indonesian diplomats and the ULMWP sat at the same table for the first time at MSG talks in Fiji.

Indonesia disputes the ULMWP legitimacy to represent the four million people in West Papua, saying it is the true representative for 11 million people of Melanesian ancestry in five of its provinces.

Hosted in Honiara by prime minister Manasseh Sogavare are Fiji’s PM Voreqe Bainimarama, Vanuatu’s prime minister Charlot Salwai, Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister Rimbink Pato, and New Caledonia’s Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) independence group.

Also attending are a large West Papuan delegation including Jacob Rumbiak, Rex Rumakiek, Benny Wenda and Octo Mote from the ULMWP and the Indonesian foreign ministry’s director general of Asia Pacific and Africa Desra Percaya.

The MSG first formed in 1986 and was formalised under an international agreement in 2007 as a forum for Melanesian and economic issues.

A regional trade pact is also under discussion and the leaders are due to issue a communique on the issue. SOURCE: SBS/PACNEWS [/restrict]