A group of Pacific Island nations has agreed not to interfere in Indonesia’s administration of West Papua, despite earlier pledging their support for the West Papuan independence push.
But a member of the Vanuatu parliament has accused the Indonesian government of “hijacking” a visit by a delegation of Pacific Island foreign ministers to the troubled Indonesian province last week.
Representatives of regional power bloc the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), including foreign ministers from Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, visited West Papua last week to assess an application by a West Papuan pro-independence group to join the MSG.
Vanuatu pulled out of the delegation at the last minute, saying Indonesia blocked the group from meeting with Indigenous West Papuans.
Vanuatu’s special envoy for decolonisation, Joe Natuman MP, told Guardian Australia: “When we received the program last Friday we realised the visit would only talk with the Indonesians and do business with the Indonesians, it had nothing to do with West Papua.”
“We decided we are not going to take part in this exercise once we realised that the program and visit had been hijacked by the Indonesian government,” he said.
The trip was supposed to involve meetings with West Papuan leaders, human rights groups and civil society, Natuman said. He told Guardian Australia the carefully stage-managed visit was part of a campaign by Indonesia to discourage Pacific island leaders from allowing West Papua to join the MSG – a move sought by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation that would bring the province one step closer to independence from Indonesia.
The MSG secretariat did not respond to a request for comment.
In June last year, MSG leaders at the leaders’ summit in Noumea, New Caledonia, passed a motion in support of West Papuan self-determination.
But in a meeting with the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in Jakarta on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Fiji, PNG and the Solomon Islands signed a pledge of “non-interference” in Indonesia’s “internal affairs”.
The joint statement committed the parties to supporting each other’s “sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity”, and pledged greater trade and development co-operation between Indonesia and the MSG countries.
Vanuatu's foreign minister, Edward Natapei, told Radio Australia on Thursday that it was now unlikely the West Papuan group would obtain full membership of the MSG.
"Considering that the three [other] leaders of MSG have been in Indonesia and they have entered into some agreements with the government of Indonesia, I believe it's going to be a lot more difficult this time to try and push this agenda forward,” he said.
He said Vanuatu would continue to advocate on West Papua’s behalf.
Natuman said Indonesia regularly offered development assistance to Pacific countries to buy political support. “I think they expect that when they are helping us we will turn a blind eye to what’s happening in West Papua,” he said.
Vanuatu would not sign the agreement because “West Papua is a different country from Indonesia”, he said.
In Jayapura, local activists say the Indonesian military and police blocked them from meeting with the delegation when it arrived in the West Papuan capital last Monday.
Dozens of people were arrested and an elderly woman manhandled by police when West Papuans gathered in the streets to protest against their exclusion from the meeting, student leader Markus Haluk told Guardian Australia.
Haluk said West Papuans had prepared flowers, music and dancing to welcome the MSG delegation, but the group was secreted in under armed guard.
“We carried banners saying things like ‘Welcome MSG delegation’, ‘We the Papuan community request political sovereignty and independence’.
“The police ordered for us to stop as we didn't have a letter of authorisation [to hold a rally],” said Haluk, who was detained by police but later released.
Local media reported that police said the protest was dispersed on the grounds that the protesters did not have a permit to demonstrate.
West Papuan police could not be reached for further comment on their handling of the delegation's visit and the protests.
Haluk said West Papuans were very disappointed that Indonesia had conducted the visit “in secret”.
“We urge the member states of the MSG to return to the recommendation of summit in Noumea on 21 June 2013,” he said. “That decision stated that the MSG supported the right to self-determination of West Papua and were concerned at the human rights violations occurring in West Papua.
“We’d like to say to the MSG member states: don't be fooled by the trickery tactics of the Indonesian government.”