Oxford 'Free West Papua' Office Furore Smolders on in Indonesia

Jakarta protestors draw parallels between Indonesian Papua and British-occupied Northern Ireland. (EPA Photo/Adi Weda)

By : Ezra Sihite & Carlos Paath | on 4:32 AM May 08, 2013
Category : News, World

Jakarta protestors draw parallels between Indonesian Papua and British-occupied Northern Ireland. (EPA Photo/Adi Weda) Jakarta protestors draw parallels between Indonesian Papua and British-occupied Northern Ireland. (EPA Photo/Adi Weda)

Noises of fury over the launching of a Free West Papua Campaign office in Britain continued to emerge from the Indonesian government on Tuesday, although one lawmaker was more philosophical.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he could not understand why the British government was unwilling to take steps against the Free West Papua office, opened in Oxford last month.

“We see this as completely at odds with the enthusiastic friendship between our two nations, and hope they can understand why we feel so upset,” Marty said at the State Palace on Tuesday.

The minister said he assumed that the office had been established in accordance with Oxford local regulations, but asked that the British government nevertheless step in.

“One more time, we’re asking the British government to try to understand why this cannot be tolerated, what they’re doing,” Marty said.

But a prominent Indonesian lawmaker said that government should not be surprised by the development.

“The integrity of the Unitary State of Indonesia is in our own hands,” People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Deputy Speaker Hajriyanto Thohari said in Senayan on Tuesday.

“We can’t leave it up to other nations. Of course the government has to stay on guard,” the senior Golkar Party figure added.

“We often hear that officially, international leaders, including from the big Western governments, say they’re supportive, that Papua is a part of Indonesia,” he said.

“But look at the case of the exit of East Timor from Indonesia in the old days. How much the Western nations said they supported our sovereignty. But along the way, due to the interference of foreign nations, the province was lost,” Hajriyanto said. “The West is always like that, you can’t trust them completely.”

Indonesian media has reported that the campaign office belongs to the Free Papua Movement (OPM), an armed paramilitary organization operating from various hotspots of dissent across Papua and West Papua provinces.

The Free West Papua Campaign, however, is an organization comprised predominantly of British citizens with the stated aim of highlighting the human rights situation in Papua and campaigning for a referendum on the future of the region.

The launching of the campaign office was attended by the local member of the British House of Commons for Oxford East, Andrew Smith, and an Indonesian-born Papuan, Benny Wenda.

Benny was granted political asylum by the British government following his escape from custody while on trial for what his supporters say were trumped-up charges designed to silence the Papuan leader.

Benny’s arrest came shortly after four Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) soldiers abducted and murdered popular pro-independence figure Theys Eluay.

During his 2002 trial on charges carrying a possible 25 year prison sentence, Benny escaped from detention with the help of sympathizers and made it across Indonesia’s border with Papua New Guinea. With the help of human rights activists, he made his way to Britain.

In 2011 the Indonesian government sought Interpol’s help by issuing a red notice requesting Benny’s arrest and extradition to Indonesia.

The red notice was however rejected by the international police organization in 2012 after an investigation concluded that the allegations against Benny were “politically motivated and an abuse of the system.”

After he was summoned on Monday by the Indonesian government, British ambassador Mark Canning issued a statement intended to defuse the tension.

“The position of [the] British government on this matter is quite clear. We respect the territorial integrity of Indonesia and do not support calls for Papuan independence. We regard Papua as being part of Indonesia.”

Show More