20 Dec 2016

MSG meetings in Vila not expected to decide on Papuan bid

10:40 pm on 20 December 2016

A series of Melanesian Spearhead Group meetings are taking place this week in Vanuatu's capital to look at the group's membership guidelines.

Last month, the MSG secretariat scheduled this week's meeting in Port Vila for leaders of its members to discuss a West Papuan bid for full membership.

However there will not be a leaders summit component at this week's meetings, with the expectation that they will now meet early in the new year.

An Indonesian captures the Melanesian Spearhead Group proceedings, 20 December 2016 in Port Vila, on device. West Papuan representatives Benny Wenda and Octo Mote (MSG observers with the United Liberation Movement) in foreground.

An Indonesian captures the Melanesian Spearhead Group proceedings, 20 December 2016 in Port Vila, on device. West Papuan representatives Benny Wenda and Octo Mote (MSG observers with the United Liberation Movement) in foreground. Photo: Supplied

But today in Vila, MSG senior officials met, and tomorrow the group's foreign ministers are to meet, to discuss the findings of a constitutional committee that has reviewed MSG rules on membership.

It's understood there won't be a decision on the full membership application by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua this week.

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 and foreign minister Frank Bainimarama is not in Vila for this week's MSG meeting, but a leaders summit to decide on West papuan membership is expected early in the new year. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

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.

The Sub-Committee on Legal and Institutional Issues was tasked by MSG leaders at their Honiara summit in July to clarify guidelines for observer, associate and full membership in the group.

The MSG's five full members - Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia's FLNKS Kanaks Movement - have been divided over whether to grant full membership to West Papuans.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua was granted observer status in the MSG last year but its bid for full membership has been deferred pending clarity on the guidelines.

United Liberation Movement for West Papua representatives outside the Melanesian Spearhead Group secretariat, 20 December 2016.

United Liberation Movement for West Papua representatives outside the Melanesian Spearhead Group secretariat, 20 December 2016. Photo: Supplied

The Liberation Movement's leaders, including Octo Mote, Benny Wenda, Rex Rumakiek and Jacob Rumbiak are in Port Vila for this week's meetings.

Representatives of Indonesia, which has associate member status at the MSG, are also present.