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West Papua: 1500 arrests amidst growing calls for independence referendum

West Papuan activists and other political leaders have called on the UN to support an internationally supervised referendum on independence for the region, which is currently a province of Indonesia.

Independence leader Benny Wenda was joined by UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, Tongan Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pōhiva, Vanuatu minister Ralph Regenvanu and governors from Papua New Guinea, alongside other British MPs and human rights activists at a meeting in London.

"It's about a political strategy that brings to worldwide recognition the plight of the people of West Papua, that forces it onto a political agenda, that forces it to the UN, and ultimately allows the people of West Papua to make a choice about the kind of government they want and the kind of society in which they want to live," Mr Corbyn said, hailing the "historic" meeting.

Mr Regenvanu told the Guardian his nation had always supported a free West Papua, and he called on other countries, particularly Australia and New Zealand, which currently support Indonesia’s sovereignty, to join them.

“They need to step up and recognise what’s happening on their doorstep,” he said.

“I think the attitude of the governments of New Zealand and Australia is quite shameful when it comes to West Papua.”

Human Rights lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, told the Guardian that both nations also supported Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor until “the very last moment”.

“It’s important we continue build strong civil society campaigns within Australia and New Zealand to put further pressure on the governments to do the right thing,” she said.

“It is of course unlawful as a matter of international law to recognise an unlawful situation, and Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua is unlawful because they did not respect international law in the process by which West Papua was incorporated into the state.”

Meanwhile, Indonesian police said they arrested around 1,500 people in Papua after demonstrators there pushed to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a group of states and political parties of the Western Pacific, which would underpin their goal of independence, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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