LONDON, 19 JULY 2019 (BBC NEWS/ANTARA) – The exiled leader of an Indonesian separatist group has been awarded the freedom of the city of Oxford.
City councillors honoured West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda, who was granted UK asylum in 2002.
The Foreign Office said the decision “has no bearing on UK government policy” and it does not support Papuan independence.
The British ambassador was summoned in 2013 to explain why Wenda’s group was allowed to set up an Oxford office.
The Free West Papua Campaign believes that there should be a referendum in West Papua over whether the islands should have independence.
It claims tribes on the islands have suffered under the Indonesian security forces.
Lord Mayor of Oxford Craig Simmons said the accolade was “well-deserved” and Wenda was “contributing so much both locally and on the international stage”.
Wenda said: “Oxford was one of the first to hear the cry of the West Papuan people for justice, human rights and self-determination.
“This award shows that the people of Oxford are listening and responding.”
He was granted political asylum in the UK in 2002, and opened the Free West Papua Campaign headquarters in Oxford in 2013.
After the Indonesian foreign ministry expressed “strong concern” over the situation, the British ambassador said it had “nothing whatsoever to do with the British Government”.
In response to the honour, the Foreign Office said: “Local councils are politically independent from central government and so this is a matter for Oxford City Council.
“We support Indonesia’s territorial integrity and regard Papua as an integral part of Indonesia.”
Meanwhile, Indonesia has strongly condemned the Oxford City Council’s decision to award Benny Wenda, a member of the West Papua movement separatist group, the Freedom of the City.
“The Oxford City Council’s has lack of understanding of Benny Wenda’s action and the actual conditions of the Provinces of Papua and West Papua, including their development and progress,” said a statement from Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta Thursday.
Indonesia’s position on separatist groups would remain firm. Indonesia will not retreat even an inch to enforce the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), the statement clarified.
The Oxford Freedom of the City Award announced for Wenda on 17 July, 2019, was being presented to the wrong person because he believed in the use of violence to achieve his political goals, the Indonesian Embassy in London earlier said in its written statement.
The Indonesian Embassy in London questioned the basis for giving the award to those called “peaceful campaigners for democracy” in the midst of the abundant evidence linking those concerned with various armed violence in Papua.
The award would actually provide legitimacy to the person and his group to increase their acts of violence against civilians and government officials who maintain the sustainability of economic, social and cultural development in Papua, the embassy stated.
Therefore, awarding people with criminal records through armed separatist movements shows the lack of understanding of the Council and the progress of the actual development of the Provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Through this action, the Oxford City Council has again hurt the feelings of the Indonesian people.
The award was a continuation of the Council’s support for the Free Papua movement after giving permission for the opening of the Free West Papua Campaign office in Oxford in 2013.
However, the Indonesian government noted the assertive statement of the British government that fully supported the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia, and that the award from the Oxford City Council did not represent the position of the British government.
“The Indonesian government respects the stance of the United Kingdom which continues to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Indonesia, and acknowledges that Papua is an inseparable part of Indonesia,” the embassy stated.