Last-minute lobbying is underway in Honiara as religious and political leaders from across the South Pacific urge greater recognition for the independence movement of West Papua.
Members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) will today and tomorrow consider awarding full membership to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
Such a move would risk alienating Indonesia which has already warned Melanesian leaders to “think carefully” about their decision.
Vanuatu has been a key driver of giving the ULMWP elevated status. Senior government minister Ralph Regenvanu says Melanesians must stand in solidarity.
His view is shared by Fiji’s Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa who yesterday marched through Suva with West Papua’s Morning Star flag – a symbol outlawed in Indonesia.
The flag was also hoisted on a property visible from the Indonesian Embassy by the Pacific Conference of Churches General Secretary, Reverend Francois Pihaatae.
“This serves as a reminder that 500,000 people have been killed in the struggle for freedom in West Papua since 1961,” Pihaatate said. “We say enough to the torture, the murder and the genocide.”
Despite that, Fiji is not expected to support the ULMWP bid. It has made clear it respects the sovereignty of Indonesia.
A similar divide exists in Papua New Guinea. The Government has previously expressed support for Indonesia but religious leaders say the moral path is clear.
“It is our prayer and wish that the MSG political leaders will be guided by true sense of justice and peace in their deliberations,” says the Catholic Archbishop of Port Moresby, John Ribat.
Indonesia is being represented in Honiara by the Foreign Ministry’s director general of Asia Pacific, Desra Percaya.
Earlier this year, Mr Percaya got into a war of words with Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare over the ULMWP bid.
Mr Sogavare supports the bid because he thinks it would force Indonesia to face scrutiny over its actions in West Papua.
At the time, Mr Percaya said the Prime Minister needed to be “awakened by the facts”.