Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands have been strong advocates of indigenous West Papuan rights to self-determination and an end to human rights abuses in the Indonesian Papuan provinces.
Indonesia is an associate member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and is opposing a bid for full membership in the group by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), which currently has observer status.
The membership issue has caused divisions within the group with Papua New Guinea and Fiji siding with Jakarta, while the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu back the ULMWP’s bid.
Support for Papuan representation in the MSG is based on strong regional concern about reports of rights abuses by the Indonesian police and military.
However, a recent announcement by the Solomon Islands police minister that the force was seeking to strengthen co-operation with counterparts in Indonesia has raised questions about solidarity with Papua.
The Solomons’ foreign minister Milner Tozaka said any co-operation with Indonesia came under existing bilateral relations and did not compromise the stance on the provinces of West Papua and Papua.
“We are at liberty to maintain our good relationship with any country. Therefore in terms of policing if the ministry of police and corrections see that this is in line with our policy and it is best for our Royal Solomon Islands Police Force that should be quite acceptable,” Tozaka said.
The vast, resource-rich provinces make up around a quarter of Indonesia’s landmass but only a tiny fraction of the archipelago’s population. West Papua has a population below 900,000 and Papua province around 3.5 million.
Last week Indonesia’s police shot dead a Papuan man they described as an armed separatist leader.
In Papua Province’s Yapen district, Maikel Merani was killed after reportedly exchanging fire with police.
The Indonesian media claimed the shooting broke out during a police raid on Merani’s house.
The authorities claimed to have been hunting Merani for a prolonged period. The authorities, regarded as imperial occupiers by many Papuans, released pictures of the corpse, his alleged weapons and other criminal paraphernalia discovered during the raid.
There was a rifle, ammunition, knives, cash and the illegal Papuan Morning Star Flag.
The Jakarta Globe reported that a witness claimed the police subsequently tortured Merani’s relatives.
Merani’s father was supposedly taken in for questioning.
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