There are more questions over the motive behind Indonesia’s bid to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
Indonesia was last year granted associate member status in the MSG but its Political and Security Affairs minister Luhut Pandjaitan visited Papua New Guinea and Fiji last week to lobby for greater participation by Jakarta.
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua was granted MSG observer status last year and its spokesman Benny Wenda said Jakarta’s drive to engage with the Pacific was questionable.
He said until West Papuan membership at the MSG came about, Jakarta was barely interested in Melanesia.
Meanwhile, Mr Wenda pointed out that this week West Papuans were arrested in Timika for showing support for Melanesian solidarity at a prayer event.
“There was 13 people arrested just for flying the Melanesian flags like Papua New Guinea, Solomon flag and Kanaky flag were raised with the banner for full membership campaign [for the Liberation Movement], just a prayer meeting. They were arrested, beating and torture. This is while [Minister] Luhut was campaigning for the joining full membership [for Indonesia] in Melanesia. And then back home, the killing continue.”
Minister Luhut told media that his tour of Melanesia was partly about conveying accurate information about Jakarta’s efforts in Papua region.
“Diplomacy is important,” Luhut was reported by Antara news agency as explaining. “We should be aggressively explaining to states in the South Pacific about the conditions and situation in Indonesia including what we have been doing in the area of human rights.”
However, signs continue that West Papuans are brutally denied their basic rights, including to freedom of expression.
Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission last month stated that in the past year more than 700 West Papuans had been persecuted through being arrested, beaten, and tortured by security forces.
For example, it said that last year on 1 December, eight West Papuans were shot and four more killed by the Indonesian military and police in Yapen for displaying independence aspirations.
Meanwhile, Minister Luhut’s Pacific tour resulted in inter-government agreements for closer co-operation between Indonesia and both PNG and Fiji, including military co-operation.
Fiji also received a $US5 million assistance package from Jakarta for cyclone recovery efforts.
The governments of PNG and Fiji have signalled their support for Indonesian sovereign control of Papua.
Indonesian media reported that Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola indicated his government’s support for Indonesia to be “upgraded” to a full MSG member.
The other full members of the MSG – Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia’s Kanak FLNKS movement – are more vocal about support for Papuan self-determination, and it remains to be seen whether they will support Indonesia becoming a full member.
MSG leaders are due to meet for a special meeting next month in Vanuatu’s capital, where a new director-general is expected to be formally appointed.
Fiji media is reporting that Amena Yauvoli, Fiji’s Ambassador for Climate Change and Oceans, has been confirmed as the new MSG director-general by Ratu Inoke.