Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai has described criticism of his government’s foreign policy by his predecessor Sato Kilman as misleading.
In comments to RNZ International this week, Mr Kilman suggested that the government was not being consistent with its foreign policy.
Vanuatu governments have long been vocal globally on the issues of human rights abuses in Indonesia’s Papua region and the West Papuan self-determination cause.
But according to Mr Kilman, who is currently an opposition MP, Vanuatu was not taking the same stands with similar issues in other parts of the world.
In response, Mr Salwai said his government had always been consistent in supporting decolonisation of what he calls “countries who are still colonised by other countries”.
The prime minister mentions New Caledonia, Bougainville and Western Sahara as examples.
Mr Salwai says his government’s policy on Papua was advanced with widespread support of ni-Vanuatu, because the country felt it couldn’t turn a blind eye to human rights violations in Papua.
According to him, customary chiefs, church leaders, woman leaders and the wider grassroots community were strongly behind the government on the issue of West Papua.
It was only in Mr Kilman’s time as prime minister that the Vanuatu government stand on West Papua changed significantly, with closer ties being sought with Jakarta.
Although Mr Kilman said he still believed the right thing to do was to keep communication lines open with Indonesia, he has been criticised himself for undermining Vanuatu’s foreign policy on West Papua because of this.
Mr Salwai said that the issue of West Papuan independence could not be separated from violation of human rights. He said the violation of human rights was happening in West Papua as a response to the struggle for independence.
That Mr Kilman’s criticism of the current Vanuatu government came in the same week that Mr Salwai attended the UN general Assembly in New York where he made a another call for international action on Papua was not lost on the prime minister.
Accoring to Mr Salwai, the opposition had been simultaneously trying to muster numbers to move a motion of confidence against him, with Mr Kilman the likely alternative choice for prime minister.
The attempt was unsuccessful as Mr Salwai currently enjoys strong support within the parliament.