Why the UK's Secrecy Relating to Benny Wenda Could Be a Boomerang?

In recent years, there has been political escalation in Indonesia with regards to the issue of Papua. In particular, this is the result of reports produced on the increasing activities of the Papuan independence movement, orchestrated by its leader, Benny Wenda.
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In recent years, there has been political escalation in Indonesia with regards to the issue of Papua. In particular, this is the result of reports produced on the increasing activities of the Papuan independence movement, orchestrated by its leader, Benny Wenda. Some have even argued that the issue could have significant implications for the bilateral ties between Indonesia and the UK.

It is widely known that Wenda, who has been granted political asylum from the British government since 2003, has been campaigning increasingly aggressively for Papua's independence after receiving the support of Oxford City Council. In 2011, the Indonesian government issued a Red Notice and International Arrest Warrant for Wenda following accusations of several assassinations and shootings; regardless of the fact that Jakarta recently decided to repeal the Red Notice.

In January this year, the Indonesian security service accused Wenda of being involved in the attack on a police station in Papua. Even though Wenda denied the accusation, the dispute between the Indonesian government and Wenda's movement continues today.

So far, the government in Jakarta has not taken stern measures against the Papuan independence movement. The lack of proactive steps by the government has sparked criticism from members of parliament, who have stated repeatedly that Jakarta's failure to hold a dialogue with Wenda's movement could potentially enhance the insurgency and violence in Papua.

Parliamentary concerns are reasonable as, currently, Indonesia is struggling to improve its local economy and accelerate infrastructure development in Papua. To achieve this, the issue of security is becoming one of the biggest obstacles; there has been an increase in incidences of shootings against the workers. Wenda's increasingly vigorous propaganda is believed to actually destabilise the security in Papua.

With these conditions, political dialogue, undeniably, is the only option to resolve the issue. Through its intelligence service, the Indonesian government has attempted to bring Wenda to the discussion table. However, the initiative was rejected outright by Wenda and he continues to campaign for Papuan independence from his base in the UK, through his movement, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). Undoubtedly, the warming of the political situation in Papua, as well as increased security tension, are not only damaging to the political stability and security in Indonesia, but also potentially detrimental to the government in London. This can be attributed to the following factors:

First, Wenda's presence is likely to be a stumbling block to stronger cooperation between London and Jakarta. In reality, Indonesia-UK relations have grown significantly in the last few years; especially in the field of the economy, culture and security. However, if London continues to provide a safe home for Wenda, it may lead to a crisis of confidence from the Indonesian government. This may significantly disrupt London's plan to make Indonesia a main investment target in Asia.

Secondly, Papuan independence is a highly sensitive issue in Indonesia. The flare-up in Indonesian politics, which the public interprets as UK support for Papuan independence, could threaten UK investments in the country, especially British Petroleum (BP)'s operation in Papua. While most cases of violence in Papua are associated with the American mining company Freeport, it is possible the public will blame BP as one of the foreign companies that exploits and damages Papua's natural resources. Obviously, this will be detrimental to the UK as BP has invested nearly $12 billion dollars in Papua.

Third, the British government's silence over Wenda's political activities in the UK could trigger an Indonesian crisis of public confidence in London. Undeniably, it would be a boomerang for the UK considering that, previously, Indonesia has had strong trust in the British; in particular, its role to advance the country's education sector.

Overall, it is vital that the issue is addressed not only by the Indonesian government, but also by the UK, which has been silent on the political activities of Benny Wenda. Policy makers in London need to acknowledge that the issue of Papua is sensitive in Indonesia, which could become a boomerang for the British themselves. Political dialogue must be held between the two countries, and should include Wenda. If this is not done, these situations will have long-term negative implications, especially with regards to security and development in Papua.

This article is co-authored with Media Wahyudi Askar, a Ph.D scholar at the University of Manchester and the President of Indonesian Student Association in the UK.

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