Fiji backs West Papua's entry into Melanesia's economic group
The leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua met for the first time with a head of government from the region. Together with the Pacific Conference of Churches, the Fijian prime minister reiterated his support for the independence movement's full membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
Manokwari (AsiaNews) – Fiji has announced that it backs West Papua's entry into the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an intergovernmental organisation designed to promote economic growth among the countries of the region.
West Papua is not an independent state, but an Indonesian province with observer status in the organisation, while Indonesia is an associate member.
The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) supports its full entry into the MSG along the lines of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation front (FLNKS)[*] in French-held New Caledonia (Kanaky).
Last week Fiji's Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, met for the first time with Benny Wenda, the leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
After the historic meeting, Rabuka tweeted, “Yes, we will support them (United Liberation Movement for West Papua) because they are Melanesians. I am more hopeful (ULMWP) gaining full MSG membership. I am not taking it for granted.
“The dynamics may have changed slightly but the principles are the same”; however, the Fijian prime minister also told RNZ Pacific that "sovereignty issues" will have to be addressed.
Wenda, on the other hand, said that Rabuka welcomed him with an open heart and listened to stories of human rights violations suffered by indigenous Papuans:
“The people of West Papua are celebrating because after 16 years somebody [from the Fiji Government] has stood up for West Papua and held the Morning Star flag with the president of the United Liberation Movement,” Wenda explained. "I think that gives us confidence that the issue now is in Melanesia's hands," he added.
In a statement, the Pacific Conference of Churches expressed its support for the movement in “in its continued bid for the self-determination of the West Papuan people and their desire for an end to the human rights abuse at the hands of Indonesian security forces.
“The PCC renews its position that the ULMWP must be consulted by governments, the United Nations and the European Union on West Papua issues as a recognised representative of the Papuan people.”
Likewise, “the PCC calls for a boycott on the purchase of all Indonesian products sold in the pacific and engagement in activities and programmes organised or supported by the Indonesian government, as a means to draw attention to the plight of the Papuan people.”
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG) James Marape was more cautious. In a press conference prior to the meeting between Wenda and Rabuka, he stressed that Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua must be respected.
The PNG leader went on to say that although his country sympathises with the Melanesians of West Papua, the province "remains part of Indonesia."
The Melanesian Spearhead Group includes the countries that consider themselves part of Melanesia, namely Fiji, the FLNKS, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, which holds the rotating presidency.
East Timor has observer status. West Papua's separatists have applied for membership twice before, in 2015 and 2019.
The ULMWP is an umbrella organisation set up in Vanuatu in 2014 bringing together the three main movements fighting for the independence of West Papua, the western part of the island of New Guinea, also known as Western New Guinea.
In 2003, the territory, then known as Irian Jaya, was split into two provinces, Papua and West Papua province, which became six in 2022.
[*] Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak Socialiste.