MSG backing Kanak independence ‘on the quiet’, says campaigner

Kanak pro-independence official Victor Tutugoro talking to journalists outside the FLNKS headquarters in Noumea on Sunday. Image: David Robie/PMC

By RNZ Pacific

A leading New Caledonian pro-independence politician, Victor Tutugoro, says governments of Melanesian countries have quietly supported the New Caledonian independence cause.

Tutugoro, second vice-president of New Caledonia’s Kanak-ruled Northern province and a Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) representative, said that this had been muted in part because of their bilateral links with France.

He said support for the Kanaks had been channelled through the MSG.

NEW CALEDONIA INDEPENDENCE VOTE: WHAT NEXT?

“The government of Fiji has been very discreet but generally speaking it’s been the organisation. With governments it’s a different story, they have to be more reserved towards France given their bilateral relation.”

Tutugoro, of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), said he was yet to speak to delegates of the the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), who visited Noumea for the weekend’s independence referendum.

The forum defied France in the 1980s by facilitating New Caledonia’s re-inscription on the UN decolonisation list.

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French police yesterday reopened the main road between Noumea and the south of New Caledonia after a blockade by protesters had caused tension throughout Monday, the day after the referendum.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Plea for PM to be ‘game-changer’ in Pacific support for West Papua

A protest in support of West Papuan self-determination in Apia, Samoa. Image: PRN

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

A New Zealand-based West Papua advocacy group has appealed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other leaders meeting at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru next week to support Vanuatu’s United Nations initiative.

Vanuatu has pledged to take a resolution to the 2019 UN General Assembly endorsing West Papua’s right to self-determination and calling for West Papua to be re-inscribed on the list of nations overseen by the UN Decolonisation Committee (the Committee of 24).

Vanuatu has the strong backing of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

READ MORE: PMC director condemns targeting of journalists and silence on West Papua

A statement from West Papua Action Auckland group said today New Zealand had the opportunity to be a game-changer at this Forum meeting.

“New Zealand is influential at the Forum and its support for the issue to go to the UN is crucial,” said spokesperson Maire Leadbeater, author of the recent book See No Evil about NZ’s “betrayal” of West Papuan aspirations.

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“The people of West Papua were cruelly denied their right to self-determination in the 1960s, setting the stage for decades of state sanctioned violence at the hands of the Indonesian military.

“The 1962 New York Agreement brokered by the United States delivered West Papua to Indonesian control without any consultation with West Papuan representatives.

‘Fraudulent exercise’
“The so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’ held in 1969 was a fraudulent exercise carried out under extreme duress.

“This issue is extremely urgent. The people of West Papua are experiencing slow genocide due to ongoing human rights abuses and the harmful conditions of life experienced by so many Papuans.

“Authoritative human rights reports document the routine use of torture and killings as well as the denial the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Not to mention the constant inflow of migrants and the marginalisation of indigenous Papuans.

“It is time to stand up for our Melanesian neighbours. West Papuans risk their lives to speak out for self-determination and freedom.

“New Zealand should have nothing to fear by joining in a call to involve the United Nations in what is the most grievous human rights crisis in our region.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ex-Bougainville VP blasts Canberra’s ‘top down’ interference in referendum

Bougainville MP Joseph Watawi … “Australians attempting to hijack our political system.” Image: Twitter

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

A former Bougainville regional vice-president has condemned Australia for political interference over the independence referendum process, saying Canberra would be better served dumping their diplomatic and aid corps in favour of “a drunk rugby team”.

Bougainville is preparing for a referendum on independence to be held on June 15 next year.

Joseph Watawi, Bougainville Member for Selau and former vice-president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), Joseph Watawi has accused Canberra of “tokenistic efforts” and contrasted Australia with New Zealand’s “trusted and respected” role because of its cultural awareness.

Watawi is chair of Bougainville’s parliamentary select committee responsible for the referendum preparation, weapons disposal, peace and unification.

“Without consultation, the Australian government has sent ‘advisers’ to all of our political offices while making only tokenistic efforts to actually help the people here,” he said in a statement.

“Let us not be naive, Australian aid is not about helping people but about gaining political power and influence. The problem is that in Melanesian cultures the only way for outsiders like Australians to gain political power and influence is to actually start at the grassroots and help people and communities.”

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Watawi said the “top down approach” of the Australians in “attempting to hijack our political system merely confirms the suspicions of many Bougainville people that the Australian programme is one of spying and jockeying for position over our natural resources in the lead up to next year’s independence referendum”.

Real task
The real task facing the Australian government and their representativeness was to deal with Australia’s legacy issues.

“It was the Australian-owned mine at Panguna that started the Bougainville war that led to the deaths of at least 10,000 Bougainvilleans and it was Australian helicopters and pilots who contributed to that death toll [by] shooting people from the air and burning villages,” Watawi said.

“Australia [had] also contributed to the naval blockade of southern Bougainville, stopping essential food and medical supplies from reaching civilians in the conflict area.

“In the past 10 years we Bougainvilleans have put a lot of work into the reconciliation process among our various factions and language groups. Australia, as one of the key causes of the war, has been noticeably absent from this process.

“If you go to the Panguna [mine] pit today and ask the women who are the traditional landowners there they will tell you that in the life the wealthiest mine on the planet at the time, they did not get paid enough to buy food from the mine supermarket

“If Australia is genuine about rebuilding its relationship with us they need to send us useful people like nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers – not bureaucrats,” Watawi said.

“Australia would have won more power and influence here if they had sent us a drunk rugby team rather than their current batch of bureaucrats.

“Compare this to New Zealand [which has] slowly and carefully with great cultural awareness built the Bougainville police force and law and justice sector since the signing of the peace agreement in 2001,” Watawi said.

“The result is that New Zealand is a trusted and respected international partner and member of our community.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vanuatu names founding PM’s daughter Laura as Papua envoy

A Port Vila solidarity rally in support of West Papuan desire for self-determination. Image: The Vanuatu Independent

By the Vanuatu Independent

The Vanuatu government has appointed Laura Lini, daughter of founding prime minister Father Walter Lini, as special envoy for West Papua.

United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) spokesperson Jacob Rumbiak welcomed the move, saying “we are pleased and impressed”.

He thanked Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu for the appointment “at this pivotal moment in our struggle”.

The appointment comes at a critical time when the Melanesian Spearhead Group and Pacific governments are divided over the West Papuan self-determination and independence issues. Laura Lini previously worked in the MSG secretariat in Port Vila.

“Melanesian sovereignty runs deep in the veins of all ni-Vanuatu, and especially in Laura’s family,” said Rumbiak.

“In the 1970s, both West Papua and Vanuatu were struggling for their independence.

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“Vanuatu got there first and it was Laura’s father, as Prime Minister, who pledged not to abandon West Papua or the Kanaks of New Caledonia.

‘Promised solidarity’
“He acknowledged our kinship and he promised solidarity with our struggle. Now, with this appointment of his daughter to our cause, we are reaping the harvest of his sagacity.

Rumbiak accused Indonesia of causing “much suffering in Vanuatu” by trying to undermine this loyalty.

“We know that the [Indonesian] government has used millions of dollars, money so badly needed by its own impoverished citizens, to disrupt your political institutions, to tear families apart, to wreck the lives of good and capable people,” he said.

“But we know that your ancestors are from our homeland and that your chiefs would never abandon us; and that our faith and your faith in God’s preference for justice, peace, and love will, ultimately, prevail.

“There is now just one more river to cross before West Papua rejoins the international community of nations, and that is to be listed on the UN decolonisation agenda.

“Laura’s life will be busy and stressful, maybe, sometimes, overwhelming. But with her passion and dedication lending strength to the determination of all West Papuans to be free, we will succeed in getting the job done.

“Then we will return her to her family and her country with the gratitude of a proud and independent nation,” Rumbiak added.

The Vanuatu Independent is a weekly newspaper with an online edition.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

New Caledonia celebrates Bastille Day and thinks about independence

By Dr Lee Duffield, recently in Kanaky/New Caledonia

The Quatorze Juillet (14 July) events in Noumea this month, as in any small French city, reflected the grand military parade down the Champs Elysees in Paris – ranks of soldiers and a senior officer taking the salute.

It was like a refrain from colonial times, kepis under the coconut palms, as if no breath of a wind of change was anywhere being felt.

The impression of total normality was strong also the evening before at the informal public celebrations concentrated on Noumea’s town square, the Place des Cocotiers.

READ MORE: Part 1 of a series of three articles on Kanaky/New Caledonia

This was patriotic enough, red-white-and-blue everywhere, (even with a can-can, and a visiting Army band from Australia), anticipating the joy of France’s victory in the World Cup football a few nights later. Mostly a big fete being enjoyed by a highly multicultural community.

Signs of the future
A taste of the inter-communal character of New Caledonia was given at the tail-end of the day’s parade, by a local cadet platoon slow-marching to a Melanesian chant.

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It was not in the tradition of the Grande Armee of Napolean; it was imaginably the young officer corps of an independent country.

Not that a full independence is greatly expected from the coming vote, mandated under agreements made by the country’s political groups with the French government – the Matignon Accord (1988) and Noumea Accord (1998).

Opinion polls have been running strongly against it and even many in the indigenous Kanak community can be heard to say it is “not yet the time”.

Voices from other times

Dr Lee Duffield’s New Caledonia seminar to be hosted by the Pacific Media Centre at Auckland University of Technology today.

Certainly the weekend events of Bastille Day and then the World Cup made it “France Week”, not the best time to talk change.

“People realise the independence idea is not practical”, said “Jacques”, a fifth-generation member of the European settler society, the Caldoches.

A well-established and prominent business owner, he was uneasy about speaking under his own name on the divisive issue of the referendum – exposure would create difficulties of one kind or another.

But he was prepared to recite the standard analysis of the anti-indépendentiste cause, beginning with the observation that French investment and a high standard of living had won a lot of hearts.

“Even in the Loyalty Islands province, which is a big Kanak area, the opinion polls which always showed a strong ‘yes’ vote for independence – as much as 70 percent, are now showing 50/50 or even a slight ‘no’,” he says.

“Things have been slowly improving with the circumstances of life for most people, and I would agree some change and reform is a good thing, but slowly — it needs to be long-term.

“Women are helping. In the tribus, the villages, they do so much of the work providing for the household and raising children, and they are the practical ones.”

Three flags of Noumea – European Union, French tricolour and the independent Kanak ensign. Image: Lee Duffield

Keeping watch on the future
Jacques admits to being worried about what the future may hold, “only a little worried” over the idea of violence or revolt affecting his family.

He does take some comfort being able to tell of a precautionary doubling of the paramilitary Gendarmerie and National Police forces, reinforced from France with the approach of referendum day on November 4 – together with the availability of an extra intervention force in Tahiti.

Yet his most serious concern is about what can be agreed on next among the different parties.

“We don’t know what will take place after November 4, or what it will be like here in another 10 or 20 years.

“We definitely need a road map, and we should manage all this together.”

That is a common position of the Caldoche and the general settler community, which began falling back on prepared positions after the violent confrontations of the 1980s that brought new Caledonia close to civil war.

Even the most strongly “French loyalist” anti-indépendentiste parties, barring a few on the margins, want just the status quo – no fast forward but no winding back the clock.

They have committed to abiding by decisions of the referendum and have not talked of any attempts at stamping out the independence movement.

Gone are the days when the local European gentry had the ear of French ministers who were themselves brought up in the colonial era, and could hold off change.

New order
Instead the territory has been through 30 years of managed change, including ingenious and effective reforms, all falling short of a full independence, but all focused on the referendum process now about to start.

The changes:

  • Power sharing in an elected territory parliament and executive Council, with both indépendentiste and anti-indépendentiste members.
  • The formation of a consultative Senate for customary or traditional Kanak leadership (not unlike the body envisaged by Indigenous Australians in their Uluru proposals – struck down unexpectedly this year by Prime Ministerial decree). It gives additional representation to people from the Tribus, tribes or clans, who have a special customary legal status as well as their full French citizenship, and are subject to customary laws.
  • Major funding of the government from France.
  • A safety valve provision that says, independence will follow a “yes” vote, but after a “no” indépendentistes in the parliament can still get it reconvened, to have a second, or even third referendum.
  • Three provinces with extensive powers and sustainable budgets set up after 1988, one of which (South province on the main island, Grande Terre) is predominantly “French”, the other two (North province and the Loyalty Islands) are Kanak territory and mostly run by local Kanak politicians.

Experience in government, money and Big Nickel
It all amounts to actual experience in governing a modern democratic state, more than just practising, with the idea that over the three decades the whole society would be “ready” for the decision to be taken at the referendum.

Money is important in setting up the lines of argument and conditioning people’s views about what they hope to obtain in their future.

Three big nickel mines with refining plants and modern ports produce more than 10 percent of the territory’s wealth but crucially well over 80 percent of its export earnings. All arguments come back to the importance of the industry to the economy and ways to get good returns that will benefit the local population.

The point is made everywhere on the anti-indépendentiste side and among neutral observers that actual independence would prompt likely reductions in French government support, over time, and a fall in investor confidence in France or countries like Australia.

Investment from China would almost certainly fill the gap – there is much worry about Chinese interest and ambitions in the Pacific region. Would a newly independent government, strapped for cash to provide benefits to its people, use its powers over immigration and economic policy to admit more participation from China?

What is the direct French financial commitment at this time?

Future security
France has already handed over all powers to the autonomous government in New Caledonia, except for military and foreign policy, immigration, police and currency – and the specific issue in this year’s referendum is whether those will be passed on as well.

The bulk of French national spending on the territory is to pay the soldiers, police and public servants including teachers – bringing up again the sound of marching boots on July 14.

Also various grants come to the local treasury through Paris, like $80 million over 4-5 years for economic development and professional development of personnel, from the European Union.

France is partnered with Australia and New Zealand in guaranteeing security in the South Pacific region. These have a protective role for the 278,000 French citizens in New Caledonia, but the regional connections are strong, so their decision-making this year is being watched closely far and wide.

Dr Lee Duffield is an independent Australian journalist and media academic. He is also a research associate of the Pacific Media Centre and on the Pacific Journalism Review editorial board. This article was first published by EU Australia, and the next two articles will be published by Asia Pacific Report over the weekend.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Green co-leader slams human rights ‘obscenity’ over West Papua

Green Party co-leader … “We are standing in solidarity with women leaders of indigenous movements around the world and around the Pacific.” Image: Rahul Bhattarai/PMC

By Rahul Bhattarai in Auckland

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson last night condemned the “obscenity” of jailing West Papuans by Indonesian authorities for raising their Morning Star flag of independence.

Speaking at the launch of the West Papua solidarity “desk” at the First Union community office in Onehunga, Davidson said she was upholding the party’s long standing solidarity for the indigenous Melanesians in their search for self-determination and independence.

About 25 people supporting the cause of West Papua gathered at the event in a bid to raise awareness in New Zealand over the ongoing issue of human rights violations in West Papua by the Indonesian government.

“It’s a privilege to launch the desk because we need to continue to do the work to raise awareness and to stand in solidarity with the people of West Papua,” Davidson said.

Davidson, along with the cultural group Oceania Interrupted, are creating an activist action of performance to “disturb” public places to help raise awareness as Maori and Pacific women of the Pacific.

“We are standing in solidarity with women leaders of indigenous movements around the world and around the Pacific,” she said.

-Partners-

Davidson has also asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to call on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to account and to raise the human rights issues.

Indonesia has just been elected to the UN Security Council for a two-year term.

Facing imperialism
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said that this was a “solidarity movement for both the people of Pacific and across the world – it’s part of the imperialism that people are experiencing”.

She added that the people of West Papua were facing militarised oppression by the Indonesian government in order to seize their resources.

“West Papuan culture and heritage is violently suppressed for access to their natural minerals,” she said.

Human rights and peace activist Marie Leadbeater, author of the forthcoming book See No Evil, said that West Papua was a close Melanesian neighbour which had been under Indonesian control since 1963 against the will of Papuan people.

She said: “They were promised self-determination and an opportunity to become an independent nation, the same as other independent nations in the Pacific.”

That promise had not yet been fulfilled and as a result the West Papuan people had been resisting or campaigning, which came at a huge price, including the loss of thousands of lives due to the conflict with the Indonesian government.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ben Bohane: China? No, let’s face the elephant in the Pacific room

BRIEFING: By Ben Bohane in Port Vila

China … China … China …

All the talk is of increasing Chinese influence in our region. But this is to wilfully see past the elephant in the room.

Contrary to most commentary, the biggest destabilising player in Melanesia over the past five years is not China but Indonesia, which through its “look east” policy has deliberately paralysed the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) while financing local MPs and political parties across the Pacific to try and stop snowballing regional support for West Papuan independence.

Indonesia already has Peter O’Neil onside in PNG, and Voreqe Bainimarama in Fiji, and is busy trying to neutralise Vanuatu, the Solomons and FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) leaders in New Caledonia, who are resisting Indonesian influence.

The reason Vanuatu and other Melanesian nations may be turning to China is because they are more worried about Indonesia, which has directly threatened Vanuatu over its strong diplomatic support for the West Papuans.

Vanuatu might be pulling some “muscle” into its corner, feeling it can’t rely on Australia because Canberra continues in its supine support of Indonesia whatever they do – even as Jakarta directly undermines Australian and Pacific island interests.

-Partners-

The accumulative “strategic failure” being talked of by Labour’s Richard Marles and others, is not because Australia has failed to check Chinese influence in Melanesia, but a result of Australia’s failure to check Indonesian interference in these nations that were supposed to be “our patch”.

For decades, islanders thought their “big brothers” Australia and America would defend Pacific peoples as they did in WWII. Instead, it appears Australia has outsourced its security of Melanesia to Indonesia, giving them free reign.

‘Melanesian nation’
Despite being a Melanesian nation itself through its own Torres Strait and South Sea Islander communities, strangely Australia has not sought to join the main political grouping of its own neighbourhood, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), which has now been hijacked by Indonesia with help from Fiji in particular; more blow-back from Canberra’s misguided attempts to isolate Fiji after the coup.

It is not lost on the region that while the Turnball government is warning about Chinese influence, senior members of his own party have been taking Chinese coin, from former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer spruiking for Huwei to recent Trade Minister Andrew Robb now working for the same Chinese company that controversially bought Darwin’s port.

Still, as examples like Sri Lanka demonstrate, Australia is right to flag concerns about strategic vulnerability that comes with excessive debt to China.

From a Melanesian perspective, the two biggest security issues they face are climate change and Indonesia’s increasing political interference across the Melanesian archipelago, rooted in its desire to hold onto West Papua.

Despite the mantra from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that Australia remains the “strategic partner of choice” for Vanuatu and the region, the fact is that Canberra is not listening to Melanesia’s own security concerns, but telling them what they should be concerned about, ie China.

This is not going down well and Melanesian nations are forging their own security arrangements with or without Australia, who they see as compromised when it comes to climate change and Indonesia.

In the past few months we have witnessed something of a “pincer movement”. In late December, RAAF jets were suddenly scrambled from Tindal air base near Darwin after a number of nuclear-capable Russian Tu 95 “Bear” bombers flew from Biak in West Papua, flying between Papua and Australia’s north for intelligence gathering purposes.

Russian bombers
It’s the first time Russian bombers have operated like this in the South Pacific and suggests Jakarta wanted to warn Australia and the US forces parked in Darwin that it too could bring some “muscle” into the neighbourhood. That message was likely aimed at China as much as Australia and the US.

Then last week, at the other end of Melanesia we have revelations about a potential Chinese military base in Vanuatu. The first thing to say is that it’s highly unlikely China would have asked for a military base – they are far too subtle to do that.

More likely is that they may be angling for something dressed up as a civilian project but with military applications, like the “space station” speculation floated in the Chinese press last week.

They have already built a lot of dual-use infrastructure in Vanuatu such as the big Santo wharf, so step by step, like their “salami-slicing” strategy in the South China Sea, they will move incrementally without wanting to frighten the horses.

Both of these pincer moves have their origin in West Papua’s situation. In some ways it reflects Paul Dibb’s reworking of Australian defence policy in the late 1980s to get beyond its Euro-centricity. Dibb offered a map with concentric circles emanating out from Darwin. The first circles cover East Timor and West Papua.

There are strategic consequences to Australia’s 50-year policy of not just turning a blind eye to Indonesia’s “slow-motion genocide” in West Papua, but active involvement through its Densus 88 anti-terror unit, which many Papuans accuse of not just targetting Islamic militants, but Papuan nationalists too.

At a time when Canberra is battling jihadis in the Middle East and the Philippines, it appears unconcerned by jihadi activity and Indonesian military collusion right on its doorstep, or a possible Prabowo government elected next year, backed by Islamist groups.

Bloody proxy militias
Those of us who witnessed Indonesia’s bloody use of proxy militias in East Timor have watched the same apparatus move to West Papua, with the same man – General Wiranto – still in charge.

It wasn’t always like this.

There was a time when the Menzies government in Australia supported Dutch plans for West Papuan independence throughout the 1950s and early 1960s until the US twisted arms to accept Indonesian control because of Cold War politics.

There was a time when the Australian Defence Force (ADF) worked with the PNGDF to actively secure its 800km border with Indonesia. Today the border is wide open and sources within PNGDF intelligence continue to complain that the Indonesian military routinely violate PNG sovereignty with their patrols, up to a dozen times per year, sometimes even moving the border marking pegs.

How can Australia be perceived as PNG’s security guarantor when it doesn’t even help them secure their primary border, especially with the growing threat of jihadi infiltration?

Why has the AFP been given priority over the ADF in terms of security across Melanesia? With no more engineering battalions or ADF army advisors present in camp, China has walked right in. The last ADF army adviser to Vanuatu, Major Paul Prickett, left 10 years ago and wasn’t replaced.

Many years ago I spent some time with Dick Hagen, a legendary coffee plantation manager in the Highlands of PNG, who has been there since the 1950s. He told me how in the 1960s and 70s, he and many Australians living in PNG were given basic military training so they could be a first response “militia” should the Indonesians come over the border and invade PNG.

For decades the PNG-Indonesia border was regarded as Australia’s real frontline. It was another potential “Kokoda” which didn’t happen, but Indonesia has found other ways to extend its reach.

Mohammed Hatta, one of the founding fathers of Indonesia, warned his nation against taking West Papua, saying Indonesia might not stop until it got to Fiji. That is now coming to pass. But ironically, it is China that will likely contain Indonesia’s expansion in the region, not Australia.

Some sort of deal?
I have the sense that some sort of deal was struck between Canberra and Jakarta back in the 1970s; that Australia would turn a blind eye to everything west of the border while Indonesia would not interfere in PNG and anything east of the border.

Australia has naively kept its part of the deal while Indonesia clearly has not. As a result, in the social media age when all the Pacific is now aware of climate change and what Indonesia continues to do in West Papua and beyond with tacit Australian support, Australia and the US are losing the moral – and actual – leadership of the region.

China is the result.

But it is worth remembering that Australia does much to support Melanesia in other important areas, has been a generous neighbour and will always be there for the islands in tough times. To the keyboard warriors on social media always blaming Australia for what has happened in West Papua, they would do well to understand the history; that it was US and UN decisions that sealed West Papua’s fate.

Australia and Holland initially supported their independence. Why would Australia again risk war with Indonesia over West Papua when Melanesians themselves have not united to bring the West Papuans fully into their family?

It was the MSG which let the wolf into their house, not Australia. As someone who was there in the first weeks of East Timor’s bloody liberation, amidst the burning buildings and bodies, it was an Australian-led coalition which secured East Timor. I remember wondering where are the Melanesian forces to assist and show solidarity? No PNGDF, no VMF or Fijian forces during the critical phase.

Australia must now find a strategic balance among its “frenemies” Indonesia and China. That begins with deeper engagement with the islands, leadership on climate change and working with Melanesian leaders to address their security concerns as much as Australia’s.

Only by listening and closer co-operation with Melanesian leaders can Australia assist with a robust defence of the Melanesian archipelago from Timor to Fiji and be seen as Melanesia’s “security partner of choice”.

Ben Bohane is a photojournalist and television producer based in Vanuatu who has specialised in reporting war and religion for nearly 30 years across Asia and the Pacific. He has been a frequent contributor to the Pacific Media Centre over the years.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

West Papua one step closer to MSG membership, says Wenda

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: West Papua one step closer to MSG membership, says Wenda

Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says the Melanesian Spearhead Group has made solid progress under the chairmanship of Solomon Islands. Video: EMTV News

By Meriba Tulo in Port Moresby

West Papua’s application to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group has gained traction, with MSG leaders referring the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) request to the MSG Secretariat for deliberation.

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister and new MSG chair, Peter O’Neill, made this known at the conclusion of the Leaders’ Summit.

READ MORE: MSG to process West Papua membership bid

According to O’Neill, the leaders of Melanesia have approved new criteria guidelines for observers, associate members and full members to the sub-regional grouping.

Currently, the ULMWP has an observer status to the MSG, with Indonesia already an associate member to this sub-regional grouping.

However, with this new move, West Papua, or the ULMWP at least could be one step closer to becoming a full member of MSG.

ULMWP leader Benny Wenda was present at the closing of the MSG Leaders’ Summit and was pleased with the outcome.

FLNKS backing
When addressing Melanesian leaders, Wenda called on the MSG to support West Papua in the same way that the MSG had shown support for the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) in New Caledonia in their push for independence.

Indonesia, however, called on the MSG to respect its sovereignty, calling the West Papuan issue an “internal matter”. These comments did not go down well with Wenda, when speaking to EMTV News:

“West Papua Is a Melanesian issue, which must be dealt with by Melanesians – Indonesia is not Melanesia.”

Meriba Tulo is a senior reporter and presenter and currently anchors Resource PNG as well as EMTV’s daily National News. Asia Pacific Report republishes EMTV News stories by arrangement.