Oxford - The issue of Papuan independence resurfaced after Free West Papua activist Benny Wenda opened a campaign office branch in Oxford, England, on April 28. The Indonesian government reacted strongly and summoned the British ambassador in Indonesia. England then confirmed its support and respect for the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia.
"This office (was established) to make the world understand why the people of Papua is fighting for independence," Benny told Kartika Chandra of Tempo in an interview at a cafe in Cowley Road, Oxford, on Wednesday May 15.
What made you finally decide to open a Free West Papua office in Oxford?
The Free West Papua campaign began in 2005. It's just a campaign. Now, as there are plenty of support from everywhere around the world, and because there are many requests for it, I have to have an official office. We have friends who volunteer to help (our campaign) so we needed a campaign center to help provide an understanding (of the organization) to the world. That's the purpose of this office's establishment; to provide insights for both the people of Indonesia and the international community on why the Papuans want independence and separation from Indonesia.
It's not because of poverty. Not because of anything; but because we have the rights. Under Indonesian international-based law; that's what we are rejecting. My struggle is not an emotional one. It is not based on my dislike towards the people of Indonesia. But because the state, the Indonesian military, the Indonesian police, the Indonesian leaders have committed murder and tortured the Papuans. So it is better for us to be independent. Maybe with (independence) we could live better as neighbors. That's the purpose of my struggle.
Who are the supporters of Free West Papua in England?
Oxford is a place I can call home. The people in Oxford are interested about our cause, beginning from the church and the youth community, all activists support this struggle; councilors, lawmakers, priests, and the people. Not only Christians, but Muslims as well; they sympathize with us. They know what's happened to the people of East Timor. They do not want that to happen to the Papuans.
Is that why you chose Oxford when coming to England?
There used activists from the University of Oxford that campaigned about Papua before I came.
With the office now opened, are there any changes in the Free West Papua movement?
It used to be just a regular campaign, especially in the UK. But with this office, as the campaign had gone global, there should be a place to accommodate all the information needs.
The office has six staff, two are paid and the rest work voluntarily. It operations are being financed by individual support and donations. Benny also hold fundraises, including by giving speeches and singing).
How will you realize Papua's independence through the campaigns?
If people do not understand the problem, they cannot support (the struggle for) independence. What I tell you are my own experiences. I saw my aunt get raped in front of me when I was little. I saw my Mama being beaten. Those are where my sentiments arose. We are all human beings so why are treated like that? I lived for five years in the forest after Papua surrendered to Indonesia. My uncle was killed in front of me. In our campaign, I share my stories to help people understand why the Papuans want independence.
You recently had a world campaign. Where did you go?
The United States, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea.
What do you think about the Indonesian government's response over the opening of this office?
I speak to my people, my nation. I am not disturbing the Indonesian state administration. Before Indonesia's independence in 1945, Papua was never included in the frame of the Republic of Indonesia. After 1963, the Indonesian military illegally annexed us. From then on Indonesia claimed West Papua as a part of the republic. I do not worry for my country's independence campaign. And I'm sure we will separate from Indonesia. After we are independent, we can be good neighbors with Indonesia. Right now we have not been able to be good neighbors because--politically, the Indonesian military and the Indonesian police see Papuans as second-class citizens, and see the nation of Papua as a colony.
If the government asks to negotiate, would you be willing?
I have faith for a dialogue, there are Papuans whom (the government) have approached. They promised (for a dialogue), but they sent the military. So, the Papuans don’t the kind of trust needed to deal with Indonesia, and the same goes for Indonesia in dealing with Papua.
Do you think there is any chance for the Indonesian government to change their attitude about Papua?
Right now the Papuans are asking for a dialogue. The President had promised this last year, but he had never been involved with the Papuans (directly). That's the problem. So, Papuans come to Jakarta and were told sign a statement that we support the Indonesian Republic. That's where the Papuans began to lose their trust. Papuans want a dialogue, but Jakarta has never opened the door. Especially for me, it is impossible to have that kind of approach, unless there is a third party involved that could mediate a dialogue. Unless there is a mediator; no.
What is the mapping of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) in Papua now?
There is more military presence in Papua compared to Papuans. On May 1, three people were killed in one week. Last year, 22 people were killed. Every day there are murders. West Papua is a military zone in the Asia Pacific. The military, intelligence, they are everywhere. Papuans are not free. Violence and bullying happens every day.
The OPM is a political organization engaged in lobbying. Some have their hands on guns--I won't deny it. They exist, but they do it to defend their homeland. The soldiers chase them, so they have to defend themselves. That's what happening in Papua. After the Free West Papua was founded in 2000, we said there should be no more violence by the Papuans. Politically, we went out for a peaceful campaign to fight for our rights.
How much support does Free West Papua receive from within Papua?
All Papuans want freedom. We are sure of that 100 percent. 100 percent.
Intevew: Tempo News