Indonesian separatist leader shocked by Interpol alert

25th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Papuan separatist leader who was granted asylum in Britain after escaping from an Indonesian jail said Friday he was shocked that Interpol had put him on a wanted list.

Benny Wenda, 37, a leader of an insurgency against Indonesian rule in the eastern province of Papua, is wanted by authorities in his homeland for alleged arson and murder. He denies the charges.

Britain granted him asylum after he escaped from a Papuan jail in 2002 and he now lives with his family in Oxford, southeast England, and continues to campaign for Papuan independence.

Despite Indonesia's insistence that the move was purely a legal matter, Wenda said the request for the Interpol "red notice" -- which seeks arrest with a view to extradition -- was an attempt to intimidate him.

"I was so shocked by that," he told AFP. "They must think that this is the only way to stop me, because I am telling the truth."

The activist added: "They have already been following me for a very long time, so I'm not surprised."

He insisted the Interpol notice would not intimidate him into stopping his work, saying: "I will continue to work to free my people."

Wenda said he believed that Indonesia decided to act because he had made recent trips abroad to promote the cause of Papuan independence.

The move also comes amid a recent deadly crackdown in the province, although Indonesia denies this is linked to the Interpol alert.

In Jakarta, foreign ministry spokesman Michael Tene told AFP: "He's been involved in certain acts of violence and attacks. He will go through a fair trial process, and if he's innocent, he'll be let free."

But a British government source said there was little chance that London would arrest or extradite Wenda in response to the "red notice", because it would breach his human rights as he had been granted asylum.

Wenda escaped from a Papuan jail while on trial for arson and murder after allegedly inciting a deadly attack on a police station in 2000.

For decades, poorly-armed separatist groups have fought a low-level insurgency in Papua. A self-determination referendum in 1969 that officially handed Jakarta power over Papua was widely seen as rigged.

The Indonesian military and police have a strong presence in Papua, and soldiers have been convicted of human rights abuses there.

Police on Thursday killed a suspected separatist and arrested 12 others, who have since been released.

Separatist activities are considered treason in Indonesia and carry harsh punishments.

© 2011 AFP

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