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The Thinker: Isolate Benny Wenda

The Thinker: Isolate Benny Wenda

Indonesia should not have made Benny Wenda and his campaign an issue by summoning the British ambassador to Indonesia, Mark Canning, to protest the opening of a Free Papua Movement (OPM) representative office in Oxford. The more Indonesia reacts to Bennys activism, the more he gains from the publicity. That was exactly what he wanted to get: the worlds attention.

There was no need to mention his support for Scotlands independence from Britain. But as a British citizen, he has the right to express that opinion. Britain cant act against its citizens. He can do whatever he wants. Even if he wants to set up OPM representative offices in other countries, Britain cant stop him. In that part of the world even nude protests and blasphemy are tolerated as part of the freedom of expression.

There should be no overreaction from the part of Indonesia like asking rhetorically if Britain would protest if the Irish Republican Army were to open a representative office in Jakarta.

According to analyst Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, the Indonesian government should maintain a tough stance given that Bennys campaign received the support of Oxford Mayor Mohammed Abbasi and member of parliament Andrew Smith. œIf Britain accused the Irish Republican Army of having carried out terrorism against the state, we also accuse the Free Papua Movement of carrying out terrorism against the state, she said.

But as a British citizen, Benny cant represent the people of Papua. If he wants to stage a protest, he should have raised the Union Jack, not the Morning Star flag, or Bintang Kejora.

As London-based Indonesian TV correspondent Devi Triana reported from Oxford, hardly anyone paid attention to Benny and his campaign. Why all that fuzz, protesting to the British government? It would only embarrass the ambassador.

Summoning envoys is normally done in more serious cases, such as if two countries are looking to end their diplomatic relations or even go to war. But over Benny?

This was just an exaggeration. Indonesia has far more important domestic problems to take care of. The Foreign Affairs Ministry still has a lot to learn.

Still, Benny should have been arrested a long time ago. He is wanted in Indonesia on charges of the murder of two police officers and arson. He previously escaped from jail in Indonesia, fled to Papua New Guinea and ultimately was granted political asylum by Britain.

Indonesia was able to track down fugitive Muhammad Nazaruddin and bring him back from Colombia. Why cant Indonesia bring Benny back? Because there has been insufficient political will.

What Indonesia should do is improve its human rights record and the peoples welfare in Papua. Although Indonesia has spent plenty of money on development in Papua, the money didnt reach the people who needed it most.

Indonesia provided at least Rp 33 trillion ($3.4 billion) between 2001 and 2012, but not much has been achieved. A lot of the money has been misappropriated by Papuan officials, some of whom live in outrageous luxury.

Indonesia needs to focus on how the funds are spent. There should be more than enough. No other Indonesian province gets as much attention as Papua. But first Indonesia needs to weed out corruption and separatism.

Newly-elected Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe has said that the Papuan Peoples Council (MPR) and the Papuan Regional Assembly (DPRD) have vowed to work together to distribute funds for projects to the districts instead of the governor. œThis is a good new beginning, he said.

Indonesia and Britain now enjoy excellent relations in a wide range of areas, from investment, education, creative industry, infrastructure and transportation to energy.
Both countries want to cement a long-term cooperative relationship. Both countries just cant let people like Benny Wenda get in the way of forging a better and hopefully sincere relationship.

Yanto Soegiarto is the managing editor of Globe Asia, a sister publication of the Jakarta Globe


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