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West Papuan liberation leader calls for humanitarian assistance amid escalating coronavirus crisis

WEST Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda has called for urgent humanitarian assistance and direct vaccine supply for his people in the wake of an escalating Covid-19 outbreak.

He has written to the foreign ministers of Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the US in his capacity as the interim president of the provisional government of West Papua, which was established in exile last December as part of the fight for liberation from Indonesia.

“Indonesia has caused a double crisis for the people of West Papua by launching military operations in the midst of the pandemic,” he said. “This new crisis is a further existential threat to my people.”

Mr Wenda argued that the health of the West Papuan people cannot be entrusted to the Indonesian authorities, citing the 2018 Asmat health crisis in which thousands of children died of measles due to a lack of vaccines and medical care.

“Western countries and the World Health Organisation have an urgent moral obligation to give vaccine doses directly to the local Papuan government for distribution,” he said.

“Over nearly 60 years of colonisation we have seen a chronic failure to develop health facilities in West Papua, leaving us dying. … If Jakarta is allowed to hold the reins of vaccine development, my people will further suffer.”

West Papua was annexed by Indonesia in the so-called Act of Free Choice in 1969. Just 1,022 handpicked residents ratified the move, many of them at gunpoint.

More than 500,000 people are believed to have been killed since Indonesian troops moved into West Papua later that year.

“These events are part of the continued genocide against my people,” Mr Wenda said, citing the health crises inflicted on West Papuans. “Our forests have been torn down, our mountains decapitated, our way of life destroyed. 

“Indonesia restricts healthcare and enforces a colonial education whilst killing anyone who speaks out for self-determination.

“We need urgent international assistance, direct to the local Papuan government, not through the colonial occupier.”

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