Australia

Don't let West Papua become the next Timor-Leste, exiled independence leader warns Australia

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West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make a public condemnation of Indonesia's bloody crackdown on pro-independence protesters.

The exiled West Papuan independence leader has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to condemn Indonesia's recent crackdown on pro-independence protesters or risk the situation becoming the "next East Timor". 

Speaking to SBS News from Oxford in the United Kingdom, where he fled in 2003 after escaping a 25-year prison sentence for his involvement in a protest, Benny Wenda said the situation in West Papua was "very similar" to the bloody struggle for independence that took place in Timor-Leste - also known as East Timor - 20 years ago.

"That's why I am calling [for] UN intervention because I don't want this to end up like East Timor," he said.

Benny Wenda believes the unrest in West Papua could become another "East Timor", referencing the country's bloody struggle for independence.
Benny Wenda fears the unrest in West Papua could become another "East Timor", referencing the country's bloody struggle for independence.
SBS News

"I hope the Australian Prime Minister will make a statement about the current situation. We need Australia to come out and make a public statement about the humanitarian crisis in West Papua."

Long-simmering ethnic and racial tensions between Indonesia and the Indigenous Papuans of the region, which is part of Indonesia, have peaked in recent weeks after a number of deadly clashes between pro-independence protesters and security forces.

The number of people so far killed as a result of the unrest remains unconfirmed, but witnesses of a single clash in Deiyai on Wednesday said at least eight bodies were located after Indonesian forces opened fire on protesters.

Papuan protesters scuffle with police and soldiers during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia
Papuan protesters scuffle with police and soldiers during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia
AAP Image/AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

Video of the attack, obtained exclusively by SBS News earlier this week, appeared to show officials shooting at the protesters while they have their hands on their heads.

Indonesian authorities said at least one soldier was also killed in the clash.

Mr Wenda urged protesters in West Papua to be safe and called on people outside of the region to draw attention to the cause through public rallies.

A global day of action has been organised by the Free West Papua Campaign - led by Mr Wenda - for later this week.

The Independence leader said he hoped the Australian people would come out in support of West Papuan independence in the same way they did for Timor-Leste.

After a referendum came back in support of Timor-Leste's independence from Indonesia in August 1999, pro-Indonesia paramilitary groups attacked civilians and set fire to buildings, with at least 1,400 people thought to be killed.

In response, Australia swiftly intervened by deploying a UN-authorised force known as INTERFET (International Force East Timor), consisting mainly of Australian Defence Force personnel, to establish and maintain peace.

"What is happening, is Indonesia committed genocide and this is a crime against humanity," Mr Wenda said.

"How many people need to be killed for the UN to intervene, to come to West Papua and see what is going on?"

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson told SBS News on Monday that Australia "recognises Indonesia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the Papua provinces".

Four Australians to be deported from Papua.
Three Australians have been deported from Indonesia, and a forth is set to depart on Wednesday, after they were accused of joining a pro-independence protest.
SBS News

"Our position is clearly defined by the Lombok Treaty between Indonesia and Australia," the statement continued.

The Lombok Treaty is an agreement between Indonesia and Australia which outlines each countries security obligations.

Damien Kingsbury, an expert on Southeast Asian security at Deakin University, told SBS News that it was unlikely Australia could intervene due to the treaty and because West Papua is officially recognised by the UN as part of Indonesia. 

"Australia is not likely to ask the United Nations to intervene in any way for a number of reasons, the least of which is the Lombok Treaty which precludes Australia's involvement in West Papuan matters and respect for Indonesian sovereignty," he said.

"West Papua is recognised by the United Nations as being part of Indonesia. East Timor was never recognised by the UN as being part of East Timor and that's a fundamental difference that makes the resolution of the West Papua problem so much more difficult."

Labor's spokesperson for foreign affairs, Penny Wong, told SBS News her party was "deeply concerned" about the ongoing reports of violence, but "fully respects the territorial integrity of Indonesia".

"We call for calm and restraint, and strongly urge respect for human rights," she said.

"Respect for each other’s territorial integrity is enshrined in the Lombok Treaty, which remains the bedrock of security cooperation between our two countries.”

The statements come as three Australians arrived back in Sydney on Tuesday after being deported from Indonesia for allegedly participating in a pro-independence protest.

Tom Baxter, 37, Danielle Joy Hellyer, 31, and Ruth Cobbold, 25, were arrested by Indonesian security forces along with Cheryl Davidson, 36, after allegedly joining protests outside the mayor's office at Sorong, in West Papua, on 27 August.

Police allege the group were holding a small morning star flag, the symbol of West Papuan independence, which is banned in Indonesia. 

Ms Davidson is expected to leave Bali for Australia on Wednesday. 

"What is happening in West Papua is alarming the world. And the world has already seen it, the world is already watching," Mr Wenda said.

"One day we will be free."

DFAT has been contacted for further comment.

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