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West Papuan leader demands end to genocide of his people after latest racist remarks

BENNY WENDA, interim president of the self-declared Republic of West Papua, responded to racist remarks by leading Indonesian officials by warning today that his people face continuing genocide.

Ambronicus Nababan, chair of the Pro Jokowi-Amin Volunteers (Projamin), called former National Human Rights Commission chairman Natalius Pigai a monkey, the same racial slur that provoked the 2019 West Papuan uprising.

It followed comments earlier this month by retired General Hendropriyono, a former head of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency, who said on live television that two million West Papuans should be separated from their Melanesian brothers and sisters in the Pacific and moved to the island of Manado in Indonesia.

“This is racial ethnic cleansing, a genocidal fantasy at the highest levels of the Indonesian state,” Mr Wenda said.

But, he added, the remarks stand in a long tradition of Indonesian officials seeing West Papuans as “subhuman” and an obstacle that needs to be ethnically cleansed.

“My people rose up against this racism and colonisation in 2019,” Mr Wenda said, adding: “The Indonesian state punished those who spoke out with over 100 years of collective prison time. The killers and racists in the army, police and state-backed militias were allowed to go free.”

Tensions are running high in the territory, which was formally annexed by Indonesia in 1969 following the so-called Act of Free Choice, in which just over 1,000 West Papuans were forced to ratify Jakarta’s claim to their land.

West Papua’s special autonomy law is due to expire this year and the liberation movement headed by Mr Wenda is demanding a referendum on independence as the only solution for the territory.

On December 1, the united movement voted to elect a West Papuan government-in-waiting, with Mr Wenda becoming interim president. 

But the Indonesian government refuses to enter talks with the West Papuans.

Mr Wenda warned: “These are not just statements from Indonesian officials. They are linked to the military operations that have displaced over 60,000 people since December 2018.

“The racist attitudes justify treating us as second-class citizens, torturing and imprisoning us for exercising our rights to free expression under international law. Indonesia’s settler-colonial project in West Papua is built on racism.”

He called on West Papuans to unite behind the provisional government and to reject all forms of Indonesia law.

“No more torture, no more displacement, no more killing, no more discrimination … we are no longer Indonesian citizens. We are forming our own Melanesian nation.

“Come behind the provisional government and we will peacefully reclaim our country and refuse Indonesia’s illegal occupation of our territory,” Mr Wenda said.

Read an exclusive interview with Benny Wenda in this weekend’s Morning Star.

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