Benny Wenda Oxford honour condemned by Indonesia

Benny Wenda Image copyright Oxford City Council
Image caption Political exile Benny Wenda was awarded the freedom of the city of Oxford on Wednesday

The Indonesian government has condemned the separatist leader of West Papua being awarded the freedom of Oxford.

The city council bestowed the honour on Benny Wenda, who claimed political asylum in the UK in 2002.

But the Indonesian embassy in London said Mr Wenda had "advocated and perpetuated violence" in the province.

Mr Wenda's office called the remarks "simply false" and "libellous accusations" against a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy said the decision to give Mr Wenda the freedom of the city "tarnishes the reputation of the award", and added the Free West Papua Campaign founder had "acknowledged his ties to three armed criminal groups in Papua", in an article by the Guardian.

The spokesman also said dissidents in Papua had killed civilian construction workers in December 2018.

But Mr Wenda denounced the claims, and said the Indonesian government had "made allegations without credible evidence" in order to "stigmatise my peaceful campaign".

The independence campaigner added the unification of the three military groups referred to by the embassy would hopefully lead to "a reduction in violence and stronger restraint regarding any armed actions".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A conflict between guerilla separatists and Indonesian military has taken place for half a century

Profile: West Papua conflict

The province of West Papua is to the east of Indonesia, and is on the same island as Papua New Guinea.

About half the population consists of indigenous tribes, and it is home to the largest gold mine, and second largest copper mine, in the world.

Control of the region was retained by colonising Dutch authorities until the 1960s, when it was annexed to Indonesia.

In 1969 a referendum of 1,026 hand-picked West Papuans voted to remain part of Indonesia, but some claimed it was not representative and voters were coerced.

Since then there has been conflict between guerilla separatists and the Indonesian military, and it has been claimed more than 500,000 people have died in the war for independence.

The Indonesian government restricts visas to West Papua for journalists, and in February the BBC's Rebecca Henschke was detained for tweets made while reporting from Papua.

Mr Wenda said: "The Indonesian government and its military forces in West Papua have, for decades, committed widespread, systematic and indiscriminate attacks on the civilian indigenous West Papuan population."

Lord Mayor of Oxford Craig Simmons said: "Since being granted political asylum... Benny Wenda has made a home here in Oxford with his family.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Wenda's movement wants West Papua to be independent of Indonesia

"He contributes greatly to the cultural richness of the city, makes a real difference to the lives of local people and campaigns tirelessly... to try and find a diplomatic solution to the troubles in his home country".

The Foreign Office said the decision "has no bearing on UK government policy" and it does not support Papuan independence.

More on this story