24 Jun 2015

MSG leaders summit opens in Honiara

2:31 pm on 24 June 2015

A crucial summit of the Melanesian Spearhead Group has opened in Solomon Islands.

MSG leaders are this week expected to decide on a membership application by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

However, a major diplomatic outreach in the region by Indonesia and political uncertainties in the Melanesian states loom as obstacles to the West Papuan bid.

Our correspondent in Solomon Islands, Dorothy Wickham, was at the summit opening this morning and says there is a lot of tension in the air with both West Papuan and Indonesian delegations in attendance.

"At the podium you can see the Indonesians sitting on one side and the West Papuan at the far end of the sitting arrangement. Solomon Islanders on the street mostly are talking about the fact that Indonesia is an Asian country, why should they be allowed into MSG? So its an issue that the MSG Leaders will have to address."

Vanuatu has traditionally supported West Papuan efforts to join the MSG but the recent change of government in Port Vila and today's pending court decision around a motion of no-confidence against the new prime minister Sato Kilman cast doubt on the West Papuan membership bid.

Papua New Guinea and Fiji have both signalled that they prefer greater representation for Indonesia within the MSG while Solomon Islands has taken the middle ground proposing observer status for West Papuans.

MSG opening ceremony in Honiara

MSG opening ceremony in Honiara Photo: Dorothy Wickham