THE MSG – CELEBRATING 25 YEARS
By Ben Bohane
Leaders gathered from PNG, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia for the annual Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) summit, which this year was hosted in Noumea.
It was a celebratory affair, marking 25 years of this important sub-regional organization that grows in strength and influence. There were traditional welcomes by Kanak chiefs and a colourful opening ceremony, broadcast live on television, from the architectural wonder of the Tjibaou Cultural Centre.
It marks the handover of Chairmanship from Fiji’s Commodore Frank Bainimarama to Victor Tutugoro, representing the pro-independence FLNKS (the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front) movement in New Caledonia. It highlighted the way New Caledonia is being further integrated into regional architecture beyond the French state.
One of the major initiatives of this summit was the invitation, for the first time, of West Papuan delegates as “special guests”. In previous years, West Papuan representatives have hovered on the sidelines, hoping to influence leaders in allowing West Papua membership to the MSG. This year they came very close – membership is now pending, following a MSG Foreign Ministers visit to West Papua at the invitation of Indonesia. Indonesia, with Observer status to the MSG, sent a large delegation to Noumea and is doing everything it can to woo Melanesian countries away from supporting MSG membership for West Papua.
In the end, both had a diplomatic victory at the summit. Indonesia was able to delay West Papuan membership until a MSG delegation does a tour of the disputed territory in November. The West Papuans were also happy given the momentum building for membership and of some strong language used in the final MSG communiqué, which spoke of concern for Indonesia “atrocities” .
Importantly, leaders endorsed that the MSG fully supports the inalienable rights of the people of West Papua towards self-determination as provided for under the preamble of the MSG constitution.
After decades of focusing more on trade and cultural issues, the MSG appears to be returning to one of its original political mandates; to support the decolonization process in New Caledonia and West Papua.