Rival OPM leaders dispute Papuan ‘independence’ declaration

Benny Wenda Sky
Exiled Papuan leader Benny Wenda ... "we are going to peacefully continue our long struggle for freedom until the world finally hears our cry". Image: Office of Benny Wenda

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

A renewed declaration of independence by an exiled West Papuan leader has stirred a negative response from other Papuan independence fighters who are part of the West Papua liberation army force clashing with Indonesian security troops.

The rival fighters have rejected the peaceful unilateral claim of independence and in particular the claim that Benny Wenda is Papua’s provisional president, reports CNN Indonesia.

On December 1 – West Papua’s national flag day when protests across Indonesia and globally each year raise the banned Morning Star flag in defiance – the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) chairperson Benny Wenda declared Papuan independence.

He did not make the declaration on Papuan soil but rather through a press release
on the ULMWP’s official website.

In his declaration, Wenda said that he would no longer submit to the constitution and Indonesian law and that Papua will have its own laws and constitution.

Aside from declaring Papuan independence, Wenda also stated that he had been appointed as the interim president of the provisional administration of the republic of Papua.

“Today, we announce the formation of the West Papua provisional administration. We are ready to take over our territory, and we will no longer submit to Jakarta’s illegal military laws,” Wenda said.

“Starting today, December 1, 2020, we will begin to apply our own constitution and reclaim our sovereign land.”

Hot debate in news media
Indonesian news and current affairs programmes such as on TV One have hotly debated the diplomacy challenge raised by Wenda. Two prominent human rights advocates have spoken out in support of West Papuan right to self-determination.

TV One Indonesia
Commentators on Indonesian television hotly dispute Benny Wenda’s diplomacy challenge over West Papua’s future. Image: TV One PMC screenshot

The declaration has been disputed by other Papuan independence fighters who are part of the West Papua National Liberation Army-Free Papua Organisation (TPNPB-OPM).

“Starting today December 2, 2020, we from the TPNPB-OPM National Committee Central Management Office declare a motion of no confidence in Benny Wanda,” said TPNPB-OPM spokesperson Sebby Sambon in a written release.

The OPM believes that the claim of independence announced by Wenda will actually damage the Papuan people’s unity who are in the midst of an immediate struggle.

Sambon even accused Wenda of working in the interests of foreign capitalists from the European Union, the United States and Australia.

This, claimed Sambon, conflicted with the revolutionary principles of the Papuan nation.

“According to international law Benny Wenda declared and announced his state and claim in a foreign country, namely in the country of the British monarchy, this is totally wrong and cannot be accepted by any sensible person,” he said.

‘No significant impact’ says military
Wenda’s declaration of Papuan independence has not had any significant impact on the situation in Papua itself, claim Indonesian military leaders.

The spokesperson for the Indonesian military’s (TNI) Joint Defence Area Command III, Colonel Czi IGN Suriastawa who said that so far the situation in Papua was “still favourable”.

Suriastawa said that the declaration by Wenda is a matter for law enforcement officials and the TNI could only confirm that the situation in Papua was currently under control.

“It’s pretty smooth in Papua. Let the police deal with BW (Benny Wenda) because [his declaration] leans in the direction of makar [treason, rebellion, subversion],” he said.

Despite this, House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I member Sukamta has asked the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo not to take Wenda’s declaration lightly.

According to Sukamta the government must immediately deal with this protracted problem through a comprehensive approach so that Papua did not suffer the same fate as East Timor which separated from Indonesia.

“Don’t treat this development lightly, we don’t want Papua to end up like East Timor.

“Shootings and attacks on the security forces and civil society are still continuing, showing that the situation in Papua is not yet stable,” said Sukamta.

Declaration of independence
Although it is widely held that West Papua declared independence from Indonesia on 1 December 1961, this actually marks the date when the Morning Star (Bintang Kejora) flag was first raised alongside the Dutch flag in an officially sanctioned ceremony in Jayapura, then called Hollandia.

The first declaration of independence actually took place on 1 July 1971 at the Victoria Headquarters in Jayapura where the OPM raised the Morning Star flag and unilaterally proclaimed West Papua as an independent democratic republic.

Translated by James Balowski for IndoLeft News. The original title of the article was
“Pecah Kongsi Benny Wenda dan OPM Soal Papua Merdeka”.

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