“The MSG is an organisation of Melanesian countries”
Outgoing chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group Victor Tutugoro -- Photo Nic Maclellan
On the eve of the Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders retreat, the outgoing MSG chair Victor Tutugoro has expressed his support for the West Papuan bid for MSG membership.
“In the past, the FLNKS gave support to the Palestinian people and the people of South Africa,” said Victor Tutugoro of the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS). “I’ll continue to do so tomorrow on behalf of the West Papuans, on the basis of solidarity amongst Melanesian peoples.”
Tutugoro, a leading member of the Kanak independence movement of New Caledonia, has served as MSG Chair since the last summit in 2013. In Honiara this week, he joins leaders and special envoys from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu for the 20th MSG summit - where the issue of West Papua is high on the agenda.
The FLNKS representative told Islands Business: “West Papua is on the MSG agenda today, here in Honiara in 2015, because the FLNKS gave the West Papuans a special status at the 2013 summit. At the time, no one wanted to invite them, no one wanted to see them, but the FLNKS invited them.”
Tutugoro said he would also encourage other MSG leaders against changing Indonesia’s current status as an MSG observer.
“The FLNKS is not in favour of this idea,” he said. “For the FLNKS, the MSG is an organisation of Melanesian countries. As I see it, Indonesia is not part of the Melanesian bloc.”
“The MSG must remain for the Melanesian nations. There are other countries – from Tahiti to Tonga – who want to work with us. However there is the Pacific Islands Forum or the Pacific Islands Development Forum which could play that role - not the Melanesian Spearhead Group.”
Building regional trade
In a wide ranging interview with Islands Business, Tutugoro reflected on his term as MSG chair, highlighting the elections in Fiji, New Caledonia and Solomon Islands during 2014 and the MSG’s work on trade and climate change.
Tutugoro endorsed the MSG’s focus on building trade relations between Melanesian countries and private sector development.
“At home, we have more and more companies that want New Caledonia to open up exchanges with the Pacific,” he said. “As the FLNKS, we have good relations with industrial associations that are eager to build trade relations with the countries of the region.
“They were with us, for example, at the Trade Fair in Papua New Guinea in 2014. A number had good discussions with companies in Port Moresby and some even signed contracts. So now we hope to organise later this year, in November or December, the Third Melanesian Trade Fair – we’ve set up a steering committee with a number of local businesses that are enthusiastic about participating.”
He stressed the ongoing importance of the MSG for the Kanak people, as New Caledonia moves towards a new political status.
“In the 1980s, it was MSG leaders like Michael Somare, Walter Lini, Paias Wingti and others who supported the FLNKS – and this issue was at the heart of the MSG,” said Tutugoro. “Today, as we move towards the exit from the Noumea Accord, this is still important.
“We’re heading towards a difficult time, as we move towards a referendum on self-determination. The closer we get to the vote, the more the anti-independence camp is divided. Earlier this year, relations between the three anti-independence parties were rotten, and in the government we were unable to discuss crucial issues for the future of our country.”
West Papuan unity essential
Tutugoro told Islands Business that his stand on West Papua was determined by the FLNKS’ status as a political movement and its long-standing policy of solidarity between colonised peoples.
“I represent the FLNKS,” he said. “We’re not a country, we’re not a sovereign state, which have trade relations and questions of sovereignty between them. I represent a political movement that is not bound by aid and trade relations.
“I struggle for human rights in my own country and I struggle for solidarity between peoples – especially the peoples of Melanesia. Certainly afterwards, there are questions of sovereignty. But today, we’re talking about human rights, about people who are being killed, whose cultural dignity is under threat. The West Papuans are claiming their rights – universal rights.”
Tutugoro said the West Papua debate at the 2013 MSG summit began a positive discussion on the criteria for membership, and the different status that members could hold according to the MSG founding statutes.
With divergent views amongst the MSG members in 2013, the membership application by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) was deferred. The report of a subsequent MSG ministerial mission to Jakarta and Jayapura was discussed at a special MSG summit in Port Moresby in June 2014.
“The essence of this report was that were too many factions, too many movements who were claiming representation,” said Tutugoro. “It was agreed that they needed to regroup to create a front that could re-submit an application to the MSG. The other key outcome of the Port Moresby summit was that, regardless of this process, we would need to discuss all this with Indonesia.”
“What was decided in the June 2014 summit was exactly what the MSG decided for the FLNKS in the past,” he added. “Our own movement has a number of factions, of different groupings, but we were challenged to come together by previous MSG leaders. And that’s why we are where we are today – because we are united.
“This is what we’ve seen with the West Papuans, who came together in Port Vila last December under the guidance of the churches. At this meeting, they formed the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP). This united movement submitted its membership application on 5 February 2015. I believe that these actions conform to the requests put forward by the MSG in 2014.”