Vanuatu PM considers MSG prospects for West Papua
Vanuatu's Prime Minister talks candidly about the Melanesian Spearhead Group's latest moves on West Papua.
The Vanuatu Prime Minister says he's encouraged by the momentum within the Melanesian Spearhead Group towards more engagement with Indonesia on West Papua.
However Joe Natuman appears slightly baffled at the group's decision to brush off a MSG membership application by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation.
The MSG had postponed its decision on the application pending a report from an MSG foreign ministers' fact-finding mission to Indonesia's Papua region in January.
Vanuatu boycotted that trip because it felt the mission's programme would not allow the MSG to obtain credible information to fulfill the MSG Leader's mandate, around making a decision on the membership bid.
Now the MSG has called for a bid by a more "inclusive and united" West Papuan group.
Mr Natuman spoke to Johnny Blades about the decision.
JOE NATUMAN: Yeah the application is dead. I confirmed that. It's been included in the Ministers of Foreign Affairs report. I was insisting that we continue to hold on to it but the leaders [as a whole] made the decision. So instead I insisted that if they claim there are other groupings in West Papua, pro-independence or other political groupings, then we ask that they form an umbrella group like the FLNKS in New Caledonia and they re-submit a fresh application.
JOHNNY BLADES: Last year at the Noumea summit, the West Papuan National Coalition for Liberation presented documents of support from over seventy groups in West Papua. How more representative do they need to be?
JN: Well I mean this is what the Foreign Ministers said in their findings, their so-called findings... it's hard to believe but that's what they said. Although they spent less than a couple of hours in Jayapura and they came out with this report. I thought it was not fairly representative of what the West Papuans wanted. But that was the consensus. So, if there are groupings there, then we have to bring them together. we are proposing that we bring them together in Port Vila or Port Moresby. This umbrella grouping, they can give themselves a name and then submit a fresh application to become associated with the MSG.
JB: You're saying there is still some opportunity for it [membership] to happen, it just has to be wider?
JN: Yes it has to be wider to be representative of all the political opinions in West Papua, if there are others. If there are not then maybe basically what the coalition is saying is representative of everybody, everybody agrees. But we should try and test what the foreign ministers are saying, that there are other groupings. If there are other groupings, they should come forward with the coalition and make a fresh application, especially after the decision.
JB: We know how Vanuatu has been fighting in that corner. I suppose it's hard at the MSG table, you have to make decisions on consensus, don't you, and other members aren't quite so keen on West Papuan membership, is that right?
JN: well, the decision is by consensus but I'm very pleased that Papua New Guinea is opening up and they're more... they understand the situation now. Prime Minister O'Neill was very forthcoming in his support for the Melanesians in general - Melanesian members of MSG and Melanesians in west papua and Indonesia itself where we have 11 million Melanesians over there. He thought we should bring them under the umbrella of the MSG. All efforts should be made to bring all these people together, politically and otherwise. That's basically PNG's... unlike other former Prime Ministers [of PNG] Peter O'Neill was forthright in his support for the Melanesian populations in Indonesia and particularly West Papua on this issue.
JB: And I notice the communiqué [from the MSG summit] has quite a few endorsements for working more proactively alongside Indonesia, is that right?
JN: Yeah, I think we should work with Indonesia and continue to have dialogue. It's a process. This is what we've done with New Caledonia which has a process with France. Although they faced some violent situations in New Caledonia the late 1970s and 1980s, eventually they formed their FLNKS and managed to reach agreement with France on various agreements. They're on the way to reclaiming their rights and their aspirations. We hope that a similar thing will be happening in Papua and West Papua, then we can bring all these groups together and they work towards their goal, whatever their goal is. That's one angle on which we talk with Indonesia. The other angle which we are exploring, which Vanuatu is exploring, is to bring this up at the United Nations level. The process has not been completed as far as we are concerned at the United Nations level, where West New Guinea was [formerly] a mandated territory of the UN, that process has not been completed.
So we're requesting that the UN look into this and then we might bring it up in the general assembly, and maybe later on we might ask the International Court of Justice to express an opinion on it [the legality of the UN-sanctioned process under which the former Dutch New Guinea was ceded to Indonesia]. That process is still open to us. Right now we have to deal with the issue as it is. We talk with the Indonesians and have dialogue with the Indonesians and dialogue with all the Melanesians of various inclinations, political inclinations, in Papua and West Papua.
JB: Who will drive the bid for the West Papuans to join the MSG now?
JN: I think Vanuatu has been involved with this, to get groupings in Vanuatu to be involved, with the coalition and the churches and the chiefs, and even the Pacific Council of Churches, they're vocal on this issue, we might include all these groupings to be able to get everybody around the table and discuss these issues. I think it's between the MSG secretariat since now the invitation has been issued by the MSG for these people to regroup and come [again] under an umbrella so the MSG will of course be involved and we in vanuatu have a lot of experience in this area, we are quite willing to assist.
JB: And what about the groups within West Papua? Some of them can't leave and some may face trouble if they do. How do you hook up and include them, if that's the mandate?
JN: Well, that's why it's important to hold dialogue with Indonesia. Indonesia is an observer of MSG, we have issued this invitation. It's therefore the obligation of Indonesia to allow these groups to express themselves.
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