New Vanuatu Government May Change Stance On West Papua

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Politicians express concern over MSG relations with Indonesia

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Nov. 14, 2012) – Vanuatu’s long-running support for West Papuan independence is at stake as the country’s newly-elected MPs attempt to form a government.

Ahead of next week’s first sitting of the new parliament, two groups are claiming majority support - one led by the caretaker Prime Minister Sato Kilman and the other by Edward Natapei of the Vanuaaku Pati.

The move by the previous Kilman-led government to strengthen ties with Indonesia, following the Melanesian Spearhead Group’s (MSG) decision to grant Indonesia observer status, has left the Papua issue at a crossroads in Vanuatu.

The Kilman government went against popular opinion in Vanuatu by forging closer links with Jakarta.

Ongoing human rights abuses suffered by the indigenous Melanesians in Indonesia’s Papua region are a very sensitive matter for ni-Vanuatu.

Edward Natapei says that in particular the agreement signed with Indonesia, precluding Vanuatu from raising the Papua issue, has hindered Vanuatu’s work on the issue.

"That is also another stumbling block so it’s going to be difficult for us to move forward with the West Papuan issue, unless we sit down and consider this agreement that was signed recently by the current caretaker government and also re-look at their observer status in the MSG."

The former Prime Minister, and leader of the Melanesian Progressive Party, Barak Sope, is deeply concerned about the role if Indonesia’s military in ongoing violence in Papua.

Heading into Vanuatu’s recent election, he promised he would cut relations with Indonesia if he got into power.

Mr. Sope is also concerned that the Melanesian Spearhead Group, under its current chairman, Fiji’s interim leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama, granted observer status to Indonesia.

"Fiji (Fiji’s regime) does not have the mandate from the people of Fiji to take such action. It’s a military dictatorship so I’m worried that a dictator comes in and brings Indonesia into this organization. All of us are democratic countries; we all get ourselves elected, except Bainimarama. So I will not accept that position."

West Papuans have been lobbying the MSG for observer status over many years, gaining hope from the precedent set for New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanaks.

While such hopes have continually been dashed, a younger generation of Vanuatu leaders like the newly elected Lugainville independent MP Kalvau Moli say the fight for Papuan self-determination will not end.

"The Melanesian bloc cannot be independent until West Papua is independent. Totally politically independent, we believe in that."

Kalvau Moli says the MSG acceptance of Indonesia is a violation of the hopes of Melanesians.

"That mess will be cleared up but we’re going to be doing that the Melanesian way. and we think that a stronger (Vanuatu) government will be in a better position to address the West Papua issue, especially because the MSG (Secretariat) is based in Vanuatu but regrettably, we’ve done very little to cater for their calls. The first priority for me would be to put Papua back on the UN Decolonization Committee, that’s a priority. Have that placed there and if we face difficulty there, that matter will be taken to the International Court of Justice."

Under a Natapei-led government in 2010, Vanuatu decided to request UN support for the International Court of Justice to provide an advisory opinion on the process in which the former Netherlands New Guinea was ceded to Indonesia in the 1960s.

However Edward Natapei concedes the move hasn’t advanced.

"Vanuatu alone can’t do very much in the United Nations so it’s very important that we get the support of the MSG, get the support of the Pacific Islands Forum countries and then progress that forward; perhaps get the support of other countries in the Caribbean and Africa."

Vanuatu’s bid for UN support on the Papua issue is unlikely to progress if the Kilman group emerges as the government when Vanuatu’s parliament sits next week.

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