The spokesperson for New Caledonia's Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front, Victor Tutugoro has been elected to be the next Melanesian Spearhead Group chairman.
He will hold the role for two years from June when New Caledonia hosts the MSG Leaders Summit.
Johnny Blades reports that the summit coincides with a major drive to help the self-determination aspirations of Melanesian peoples not yet independent, notably West Papuans:
Furthering the Kanak bid for independence from France was a core reason for the inception of the MSG twenty-five years ago.
MSG commitment to this cause may have veered off course in the intervening years, but it's sharply returning to focus with the change of chairmanship and the fact that the four-year window for a possible referendum on New Caledonia's independence as provided by the Noumea Accord begins next year.
Adding to the momentum, the former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare recently warned that if the MSG cannot help fulfill the Kanak political aspirations, then 'it risks the danger of losing its existence'.
However Sir Michael has implored the MSG Secretariat to 'exercise caution and patience' in dealing with the other big Melanesian self-determination issue, that of West Papua.
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation recently lodged a formal application for full MSG membership and the summit is expected to feature a formal response.
There are signs that after years on the outer, encompassing the controversial granting of MSG observer status to Indonesia, the West Papuans' time to join the club may have arrived.
Vanuatu's new Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil says his government will push for West Papua to be granted full MSG membership
"It's about time to recognise that the West Papua struggle, someone has to do something about it. We cannot just close our eyes and deny, say that there is nothing happening over there, because there are many human rights issues happening over there. We want West Papua to be a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group - this is something that we're going to lobby for."
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation has been lobbying Melanesian leaders over the membership matter, including a visit to Fiji to talk with the current MSG chairman, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
An advisor to the Coalition is the former Vanuatu Prime Minister Barak Sope who was impressed by the willingness of Fiji's Prime Minister to pursue the matter.
He is in a position to put it to the other heads of government. When I spoke last time (to RNZI on the matter), I was critical of Bainimarama and others because of Indonesia coming in to the MSG. But with their position this time, they've said ok, the West Papua case - after following the (application) procedure - it'll now be considered by the MSG, it's up to the MSG leaders to decide.
The Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Clay Forau says his government is expecting an approach by the coalition, but has indicated his country will give its support.
I think that's the way we're going now, helping our other friends in their fight for self-determination. You're aware that we also co-sponsored a UN resolution for French Polynesia's inscription on the decolonisation list.
While Sir Michael Somare says dialogue and extensive consultation should underlie the MSG approach on the West Papua issue, it's clear that the new generation of Melanesian leaders emerging is less willing than him to defer to the issue as purely an Indo domestic matter for Indonesia.
Membership in the MSG for West Papua is no certainty, but FLNKS chairmanship of the MSG is - both would give significant momentum to the decolonisation process in the region.