Papua excluded from island group

Baliem Valley in Papua, Indonesia. Source: Wikimedia



The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), a grouping of Pacific island nations, has denied full membership to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in Indonesia’s eastern province.

Melanesian leaders debated the issue but delayed making a decision until September so that more clarity could be provided about membership criteria.

“There is no place for the ULMWP in the future of the MSG,” said Desra Percaya, Indonesia’s foreign ministry’s director general at the summit in Honiara, the Solomon Islands.

Desra said the active involvement of the Indonesian delegation, including representatives from five of the country’s Melanesian-rooted provinces (Maluku, North Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara, Papua and West Papua), had influenced MSG leaders in Honiara to reject the ULMWP’s bid for recognition and support.

Vanuatu is hostile toward Indonesia’s membership and openly supports the separatist ULMWP.

Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai said he “gravely regretted” the deferral and vowed to keep fighting for the ULMWP.

Representation by Melanesians in Indonesia is an important aspect in establishing relations with the Pacific nations, especially as the MSG has been used as a platform for Papuan independence movements in the past. The MSG members are Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia. Indonesia obtained associate member status during the last MSG conference in 2015.

The ULMWP sits on the MSG as an observer.

Indonesia Political, Legal and Security Affairs Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said the decision was proof that Indonesia was able to convince the forum not to support separatist groups.

“Now Indonesia’s position in the MSG is extremely favourable,” Luhut told the media in Jakarta.

The door was open for Indonesia to apply for full membership of the MSG, the minister said.

“I can say this is the result of extraordinary teamwork done holistically,” the ex-general said.

Luhut has said Indonesia would reap more benefits if it became a full member of the MSG.

Around 11 million people of Melanesian ancestry live in five of the archipelago’s eastern provinces, meaning Indonesia’s inclusion in the MSG is a priority for Jakarta.

“Indonesia is now positively considering a bid to become a full member of the organisation,” Desra added. Fiji has announced its support for Indonesia, while Papua New Guinea will decide at next year’s meeting, which will be in Port Moresby.