Fiji has hit back at the deputy prime minister of Solomon Islands over criticism about the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
Speaking in the Solomons parliament yesterday, Manasseh Sogavare said Fiji should apologise for bringing Indonesia into the MSG.
Indonesia was admitted to the MSG with observer status in 2011 after Mr Bainimarama assumed the MSG’s rotational chairmanship.
In 2015 Indonesia had its status in the group elevated. This remains a complicating factor as the MSG wrestles with the sensitive issue of a West Papuan membership bid.
However, in response, Fiji’s Defence Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, who often represents Fiji at MSG summits, denied Mr Sogavare’s claim that the MSG didn’t reach consensus on the issue.
“I think he is either suffering from memory loss or trying to play politics with his own constituents,” said Ratu Inoke.
“He has forgotten that it was during his term as chair of the MSG when Indonesia was admitted to the MSG as an associate member. All members of the MSG had agreed.”
“I cannot really understand why he is making this statement, trying to put the blame on our prime minister, because all the (MSG) members agreed to admit Indonesia as an associate member,” said the Fiji minister.
Following the 2015 summit, Mr Sogavare spoke of how bringing Indonesia into the fold had been polarising for MSG leaders.
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua was itself granted observer status in the MSG in 2015, but its application for full membership continues to divide the five full members.
At their latest summit in Port Moresby last month, MSG leaders approved new clarifications on guidelines around membership in the group.
The Liberation Movement’s application has been referred to the MSG secretariat for processing, but Fiji and Papua New Guinea have signalled they remain opposed to the pro-independence West Papuans being given full membership.
Of the other full members of the group, Vanuatu and the FLNKS appear firmly in support of the Papuan bid.
The position of PNG and Fiji on the West Papua membership issue had been “really clear”, according to Ratu Inoke.
“And the new prime minister of Solomon Islands, in the last meeting in Port Moresby, about three weeks ago, he took a similar position,” he said.
Mr Sogavare however remains a strong influence in government, and his stand on the Papua issue appears unlikely to diminish.
“Close association of Fiji with Indonesia is sabotaging the work of MSG and their membership in MSG is not political but economic interest,” said Mr Sogavare.
Echoing recent statements by Vanuatu’s government, Mr Sogavare said the MSG’s founding aim of working to decolonise all Melanesian peoples was at risk.