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West Papua campaigner vows not to be silenced
CAMPAIGNER Benny Wenda last night said a ban from the New Zealand Parliament would just make him more determined in his fight for independence for his West Papua homeland.
Mr Wenda, who has lived in Oxford for more than 10 years, is on an international tour to press for West Papua’s independence from Indonesia but found himself banned from speaking in New Zealand’s Parliament buildings by its speaker, David Carter.
The father-of-six, who lives in Marston Road, embarked on his tour in January after he was removed from an Interpol wanted list, which placed him at risk of extradition to Indonesia.
The 37-year-old started in New York, before travelling in the United States, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, an island in the South Pacific.
But it was in New Zealand where he struck trouble, with Mr Carter refusing him the right to speak at a meeting and politicians of the ruling conservative National party being warned by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully from getting involved.
The Speaker did not reveal why Mr Wenda was not allowed to speak, but rival politicians said the New Zealand government did not want to offend Indonesia, a strong trade partner.
Mr McCully also refused to meet Mr Wenda, who said he wanted to tell the minister New Zealand’s aid did not reach the indigenous people.
Speaking from Vanuatu, Mr Wenda said last night: “Although I was disappointed on a human level, being silenced is nothing new for me and my people.
“We have not had our voice heard for nearly 50 years.
“The block from speaking in the Parliament in New Zealand has made me more determined to continue with my work, informing people around the world about my people’s struggle for freedom from Indonesian colonial rule.”
Mr Wenda has been lobbying governments around the world to seek support for West Papuans’ call for a free referendum.
A spokesman for Mr Wenda said: “He has had a very warm welcome in all the countries.
“Even in New Zealand, the opposition parties came out strongly in support of Benny after the Speaker had blocked him from speaking last month.
“The tour will finish at the end of this month when Benny returns to Papua New Guinea to address the Parliament there.”
After being accused by the Indonesian authorities of murder and arson, which he denied, Mr Wenda was subject to an Interpol red notice placing him at risk of extradition to Indonesia.
Fair Trials International campaigned on his behalf, and the Interpol notice against him was removed. Mr Wenda fled his homeland in 2002 and gained political asylum in the UK in 2003.