Melanesian leaders failed to attend the 2nd Pacific Islands Development Forum on the Fijian resort island of Denarau last month. Conspicuous in their absence were Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and his Solomon Islands and Vanuatu counterparts Gordon Darcy Lilo and Joe Natuman. In fact the only Melanesia leader present was the host, Fiji’s interim Prime Minister Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama. Tongan Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano was the only Polynesian leader at the PIDF while President Anote Tong of Kiribati and Nauru’s Baron Waqa represented Micronesia. In terms of scale, the event was truly regional with red carpet welcomes, gala dinners, military parades, police-escorted motorcades, accommodation at five star hotels and formal Fijian ceremonies of welcome. Fiji’s Information Ministry – which exercised complete control of the media during the threeday meeting offered no reason for the non-attendance of key Pacific delegates. Most of the focus was directed to the chief guest, outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the warm relations between his country and the host nation. Indeed, such was the intensity of local media coverage on SBY that civil society representatives at the talks claimed his presence overshadowed the importance of the meeting. “It did take (away) some of the focus,” Pacific Islands Association of NGOs Executive Director Emele Duituturaga said. Civil society groups at the PIDF wanted to address issues of self-determination and justice including self-determination for West Papua but did not get the opportunity to do so. “There was no opportunity to engage (with Yudhoyono). It was very high level security, it was a State visit and treated as such,” Ms Duituturaga said.
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