Jakarta. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi is rushing to put out diplomatic fires across the Pacific with back-to-back visits to neighbors Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji — three members of the intergovernmental organization known as the Melanesian Spearhead Group that have threatened in recent weeks to recognize West Papua as an occupied member state.
Retno’s trip comes as MSG leaders are set this month to consider a formal membership application from the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, a joint resistance group formed in December last year. Its leaders submitted their application to the MSG’s Secretariat in Vanuatu on Feb. 4.
The ULMWP is comprised of leaders from the Federal Republic of West Papua, West Papua National Parliament and West Papua National Coalition for Liberation.
Indonesia gained special observer status in the MSG under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says he raised the issue of human rights in West Papua and Papua in talks with Indonesia’s foreign minister, Radio New Zealand reported.
O’Neill also urged the Indonesian government to support the application by the Papuan provinces to join the MSG, according to PNG Loop.
O’Neill insisted that his views on Papua were to do with human rights and “not sovereignty.”
The statements marked a significant break from Papua New Guinea’s previous stance of recognizing Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua and remaining silent on human rights abuses there.
“Sometimes, we forget our own families, our own brothers, especially those in West Papua. I think as a country, the time has come to speak for our people about the oppression there,” O’Neill told cabinet ministers on Feb. 4, as quoted by ABC News. “Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on social media and yet, we take no notice. We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded.”
However, Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato said prior to his press conference in Port Moresby with Retno that neither he nor his counterpart would talk with reporters about West Papua issues — and reporters should not ask. Press conferences in Fiji and the Solomon Islands were similarly silent on the issue.
While Fiji’s government and opposition both voiced their support for West Papua’s application earlier last month, Fijian leaders’ tune changed shortly thereafter.
On Feb. 11, Papua New Guinea Today reported Fiji’s foreign minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa met with exiled West Papuan activist Octavianus Mote.
Mote said Fiji’s leaders expressed their willingness to support West Papua’s bid.
“I’m very pleased with the reception to the visit and look forward to further talks with our Fijian friends in March,” he said. “The CSO community and the Methodist Church in Fiji have been very gracious in offering to write to the MSG Secretariat in support of our request for membership.”
Mote added that Vanuatu had also signaled its support.
However, on Feb. 16, the foreign minister appeared to equivocate under questioning from opposition whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca.
“I cannot confirm if Fiji will support the application of West Papua,” Ratu said, as reported by the Fiji Times.
“The application [is] to be considered by senior officials of the MSG and then it goes out to the foreign ministers and then the MSG leaders. We have to follow the process so I can’t confirm whether Fiji will support the application.”
Retno’s primary bargaining chip in her whirlwind tour last week would appear to be money. Indonesia declared its commitment to disbursing a total of $20 million in financial assistance to support capacity building of MSG nations. Meetings to discuss technical details of usage and disbursement of the funds are expected later this year.
The Foreign Ministry said that each of Retno’s meetings yielded “intensified cooperation” regarding MSG issues.