Benny Wenda: West Papua leader receives freedom of Oxford

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Benny WendaImage source, Oxford City Council
Image caption,
Benny Wenda is the leader of the Free West Papua Campaign

The exiled leader of an Indonesian separatist group has been awarded the freedom of the city of Oxford.

City councillors honoured West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda, who was granted UK asylum in 2002.

The Foreign Office said the decision "has no bearing on UK government policy" and it does not support Papuan independence.

The British ambassador was summoned in 2013 to explain why Mr Wenda's group was allowed to set up an Oxford office.

The Free West Papua Campaign believes that there should be a referendum in West Papua over whether the islands should have independence.

It claims tribes on the islands have suffered under the Indonesian security forces.

Lord Mayor of Oxford Craig Simmons said the accolade was "well-deserved" and Mr Wenda was "contributing so much both locally and on the international stage".

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Wenda's movement wants West Papua to be independent of Indonesia

Mr Wenda said: "Oxford was one of the first to hear the cry of the West Papuan people for justice, human rights and self-determination.

"This award shows that the people of Oxford are listening and responding."

He was granted political asylum in the UK in 2002, and opened the Free West Papua Campaign headquarters in Oxford in 2013.

After the Indonesian foreign ministry expressed "strong concern" over the situation, in 2013 the British ambassador said it had "nothing whatsoever to do with the British Government".

In response to the honour, the Foreign Office said earlier this week: "Local councils are politically independent from central government and so this is a matter for Oxford City Council.

"We support Indonesia's territorial integrity and regard Papua as an integral part of Indonesia."

In March a Polish tourist was jailed for five years after being convicted of plotting with rebels in the Papua province.