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Vanuatu’s Shefa province is recognising Benny Wenda as the interim president of a provisional “independent” West Papuan government.

In a country that has historically been the most vocal in support of West Papuan self-determination rights, Shefa province is the first authority in the country to officially recognise an independent West Papua government.

Wenda, a West Papuan pro-independence activist who fled persecution in his homeland under Indonesian control, was granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2003.

A year ago, as the head of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Wenda announced that it was forming a “provisional government” of West Papua, with him as the interim president.

Shefa’s recognition of that government was announced by the Secretary-General of Shefa provincial government, Morris Kaloran, to mark the 60th aniversary of West Papua’s “declaration of independence” in 1961 which was soon overshadowed by a controversial US-brokered agreement which paved the way for Indonesia to take control of Papua.

Kaloran said the ULMWP provisional government and its interim president were the legitimate representatives of the people of West Papua and their struggle.

In a symbolic gesture, Shefa province had already adopted the indigenous Melanesian people of West Papua and their struggle for self-determination and liberation from Indonesian rule.

Melanesian ‘destiny joined’
“The destiny of our two Melanesian peoples of West Papua and Vanuatu is joined. The West Papuan people remain enslaved and colonised in 21st century, subject to discrimination, assassination and military operations,” Kaloran said.

“Their gallant freedom struggle, under the guidance and leadership of the ULMWP Provisional Government, is moving ever closer to victory. Until the people of West Papua are, no one in Melanesia is free.”

Hundreds of ni-Vanuatu, and West Papuan representatives, march to the Melanesian Spearhead Group secretariat in Port Vila.
Hundreds of ni-Vanuatu, and West Papuan representatives, march for West Papuan independence in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila. Image: Joe Collins/AWPA

Indonesia’s government opposes the ULMWP’s claims to represent West Papuans, saying the people of the Papuan provinces of Indonesia have democratic rights like other people in the republic.

Both Indonesia and the ULMWP have been granted membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group, whose full members — Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia’s Kanak independence movement — have expressed a wish for Jakarta to engage in dialogue with West Papuans about their grievances.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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