The Chiefs' Nakamal in Port Vila, Vanuatu - the scene of closed-door meetings.
The Chiefs’ Nakamal in Port Vila, Vanuatu – the scene of closed-door meetings.

The West Papuan reconciliation and unification conference being hosted in Port Vila for the different separatist groups from West Papua has gone into stealth mode as the delegates have barricaded themselves in the Chiefs’ Nakamal to deliberate and make recommendations for a way forward.

No member of the local media or public have been allowed entry into the Nakamal.

These restrictions are a precautionary measure to avoid Indonesian spies infiltrating the meetings.

The various groups represented in the closed-door meetings are here to find common grounds on which they can be allowed member status into the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), a regional body that supports the interests of Melanesians.

Indonesia, West Papua’s current colonizer, has been granted “observer” status in the MSG while West Papuans have so far been denied representation. The main speculation regarding this would be due to the fact that West Papua is not a sovereign state so it cannot be represented in an organization formed by Melanesian sovereign states.

There are several separatist factions claiming to fight for West Papua’s right to self-determination. This conference aims to bring these factions together to formulate a common ground on which they can move into the MSG as full-time members.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has threatened to cut all diplomatic ties to Vanuatu for meddling in its internal affairs. Radio New Zealand reported that Jakarta’s Acting Ambassador to Vanuatu, Imron Cotan has indicated that there could be war.

“Indonesia is ready to go to war in order to maintain Papua within our territory so we are indeed serious about Papua. Nobody I believe should take it lightly. Indonesia will be more than prepared to freeze anything if our sovereignty over Papua is questioned. That is definitely a no go in Indonesia.”

Vanuatu, however, is adamant with its stand to support West Papua. It has always been a staunch supporter of the “Free West Papua” movement and has championed the cause for self-determination for years.

Fr Walter Lini, the foremost father of this nation famously declared that “Vanuatu is not free until all Melanesia is free.”

It is with this attitude that Vanuatu will not give in to Indonesia’s threats, but will remain a strong supporter of West Papua. This support has gone as far as seemingly “meddling” in Indonesia’s internal affairs so that West Papuans’ voices can be heard in the MSG.

West Papuans are predominantly Melanesian. When their Dutch colonizers left in the 1950s to 1960s, West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia through a rigged vote called the “Act of free choice” in 1969. Ever since then, the West Papuans have faced increasing human rights abuses.

These abuses have been one of the reasons why Vanuatu will always support the West Papuans’ fight for self-determination.