Issues of decolonisation and self-determination took centre stage at the just-completed 19th Melanesian Spearhead Group Leaders Summit in New Caledonia.
For the summit's hosts and incoming chair of the MSG, New Caledonia's FLNKS movement, the gathering was a strong endorsement of their preparation for possible independence from France.
However for the West Papuans of Indonesia, their bid to join the MSG and further their own struggle for self-determination, the summit was not all that they had hoped for.
Johnny Blades reports from Noumea:
The theme of Melanesian solidarity is central to all MSG summits. Much is made of how the group was set up to break the shackles of colonialism and support freedom for all Melanesian people. But beneath the celebrations, disquiet lurks over the long-running struggle for self-determination of the West Papuans of Indonesia's heavily militarised eastern region. A formal bid for MSG membership by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation, whose leadership has lived in exile for many years, was the most anticipated discussion item at this summit. Vanuatu's Prime Minister Moana Carcasses told the plenary session that the MSG must support the cause because continued denial of self-determination for West Papuans is unacceptable.
"MOANA CARCASSES: We are aware of the human rights violation and atrocities being committed against West Papuans in their motherland. And so, therefore, I'm calling for an end to the abuse of human rights. We move that any continuation or abuse of human rights should be immediately brought to the attention of the international communities. Never let our desire for freedom be extinguished by the power of money."
Among the five members of the MSG, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and the FLNKS were in support of the West Papuan membership bid. But Papua New Guinea and Fiji - two countries who have in recent months forged closer ties with Indonesia - were uncomfortable with it. Earlier, the issue was debated at length by senior officials, with the leaders ultimately declaring that a decision on the West Papua application would be deferred until after a MSG mission had visited Indonesia to discuss West Papua more closely with Jakarta some time this year. PNG's deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion - at the summit on behalf of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill who had opted to make a state visit to Jakarta with a huge business delegation instead - made clear that his country fully supports Indonesia's territorial control of West Papua.
LEO DION: I think the main thing that this conference has made is to the MSG members to be invited by the Indonesian government to go and dialogue with them. And I think that's our greatest step forward.
The secretary-general of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation was disappointed that the membership application had been deferred. But Rex Rumakiek is encouraged that there seems to be some movement on the issue.
REX RUMAKIEK: Finally, our issue has been taken up by the Melanesian Spearhead Group, 'cause we have been trying for a long time. The very interesting thing here is that since they are now recognising, visually recognising the issue, and, collectively, they want to do something about. That's the most important thing.
However he is weary of delay tactics by opponents of West Papuan self-determination and says the mission to Indonesia could be open to manipulation.
REX RUMAKIEK: It's better to make it an decision now than wasting their time to go over there. 'Cause you won't see anything new. Most likely, they'll make sure that your mission fails to get whatever you want to see.
But the incoming chairman of the MSG - the FLNKS's Victor Tutugoro - insists the ministerial mission to Indonesia will proceed with eyes wide open.
VICTOR TUTUGORO (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yeah, we know what's happening there. We see the actualities. We are conscious that maybe through this visit they will show us something else. We will see regarding our own decision, for the FLNKS.
JOHNNY BLADES: Wouldn't giving them membership now be the most help to them?
VICTOR TUTUGORO (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We cannot break the MSG cohesion. This issue can break the cohesion of the MSG.
Meanwhile, MSG Leaders declared commitment and direct assistance to the FLNKS' independence cause. For the veteran FLNKS leader and former MSG chair, Roch Wamytan, assuming the chairmanship now is very important for New Caledonia's Kanaks as they enter the final phase of the Noumea Accord which provides for a possible referendum on independence between next year and 2018.
ROCH WAMYTAN: We are in the process, in the process of the Noumea Accord's emancipation and decolonisation process. And I think it's very important, as well, to be supported by the MSG for us to achieve our independence in the few years coming.
There are few stauncher supporters of decolonisation in the Pacific than French Polynesia's Oscar Temaru. A special guest at the MSG summit, Mr Temaru recently lost the Presidency of French Polynesia to the pro-France veteran leader Gaston Flosse, but the same week he succeeded in getting French Polynesia re-inscribed on the UN Decolonisation list.
OSCAR TEMARU: We lost that battle, but I think we won the war - the goal of our fight for 35 years. We got our country back on the list, and I can see a new blood, a new force, in our struggle for the sovereignty of our country in the future.
MSG countries were instrumental in lobbying support for French Polynesia's reinscription. But the issue of West Papua remains a sensitive one in the MSG. Fiji's Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, was centrally involved in Indonesia gaining observer status in the MSG two years ago and now with securing an invitation for the MSG to visit:
RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: Yeah. We need to recognise the fact that our administrative power is Indonesia. And we need to work with Indonesia, with Jakarta.
But many in the MSG framework, such as Roch Wamytan, don't agree with the Leaders' direction on this issue.
ROCH WAMYTAN: The opportunity to obtain a status of full member, it will be a good thing for West Papua. But we know Papua New Guinea and Fiji, they are not really on this process.
For the West Papuan activist Paula Makabory, MSG leaders have West Papuan lives in their hands:
PAULA MAKABORY: If the Melanesian leaders decided something just to appease Indonesian governments because of the relationships, in this state they are choosing to kill their own brothers and sisters in West Papua under Indonesian occupation. So they will create more human rights violence in West Papua. We have been facing the questions of genocide in West Papua.
The MSG has grown in cohesion in recent years, becoming the Pacific islands region's most powerful political and economic bloc. However that cohesion may face its biggest test from the creeping divisions over the West Papua issue.