Vanuatu’s former Roving Ambassador and former Prime Minister, Barak Sope, has disputed claims that the late Sir Michael Somare was a supporter of West Papua.
Sope says it is important that original political leaders including PNG former Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, former Commander of the PNG Kumul Force, Commander Ted Diro who led his army to crush the Santo Rebellion, and former Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka—who are still alive today—know that their contributions towards peace and freedom in the Pacific are recognised and respected.
He says while Sir Michael was in Opposition, he did not agree to send PNG troops to Vanuatu to quell the Santo Rebellion.
“Recently Mr. Somare was wrongly described as someone who stood with Vanuatu to achieve our Independence because that was not the case at all”, he says.
“Before 1980, we had already connected with West Papua and West Timor through West Papua’s Mr. Rex Rumakiek who is still alive today in Australia and Mr. Somare did not like some of us. That was why West Papua Leaders Mr. Rex Rumakiek and Mr. Andy Ayamiseba (deceased) came to Vanuatu because the Somare Government had deported them from PNG due to their struggle for the freedom of West Papua”.
It was then that Sope and the VP Government under Father Walter Lini gave them a home in Port Vila because by then, Vanuatu was already a staunch supporter of political freedom for the remaining colonies in the Pacific.
At the time Father Lini uttered his most famous saying, that Vanuatu would not be completely free of colonialism until the remaining handful of colonies were also given their God given freedom from colonialism.
Now after ‘Yumi 40’, Sope wishes to correct recent social media and local media reports concerning Papua New Guinea’s first former Prime Minister, saying he never supported calls for political self-determination for West Papua, East Timor or the formation of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
“When the PNG Parliament voted to send PNG troops to Vanuatu, Mr. Somare and the Opposition voted against it, so we had to go to Port Moresby to lobby with their MPs so that when the motion went back to parliament, it was passed and the troops were flown in”, he recalls.
“It was difficult because Sir Michael Somare was too close to the Indonesians”.
He also says SIr Michael and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara opposed the formation of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. “Up until Mr. Somare’s passing, he never attended any MSG Meeting because he insisted on having the South Pacific Forum as the only such regional body in the Pacific.”
He says the MSG is headquartered in Vanuatu because the initiative belonged to Vanuatu. The man who spearheaded the idea was none other than the (late) Father Walter Lini.
After Ratu Mara’s term in Government ended, and Fiji’s military coup occurred, Sope recalls, “Father Lini sent me to go to Suva to talk to Mr. Sitiveni Rabuka. He (Rabuka) asked me for Fiji to rejoin the South Pacific Forum and I agreed.
“I chaired the first MSG Conference between Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomons and PNG in the Port Vila Municipality Conference Room just below the Prime Minister’s Office”.
Asked if he would allow Indonesia into MSG if he were Chairman, he replies bluntly, “No, we would oppose its application! Any country that opposes Independence for colonised countries should be out!”
Sope says the purpose of the MSG is to achieve the freedom of people who hunger for freedom.