As we enter 2024, I am confident we stand on the brink of great success for our liberation struggle. Thanks to our successful first Congress in 2023, the ULMWP is moving forward according to our threefold agenda of full membership of the MSG, a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visit to West Papua, and a self-determination referendum. Thank you to all our solidarity groups, all religious groups, and civil society organisations who stood behind West Papua in 2024. We need your support more than ever this year as we seek to push our campaign to unprecedented heights.  

I call on Indonesia to urgently withdraw their military forces from occupied West Papua. Across West Papua, Indonesian military operations continue to cause havoc for my people and prevent those internally displaced from returning to their homes. As demanded by the MSG Leaders’ Meeting in August of last year, Indonesia must also facilitate a UN visit to West Papua before the next MSG meeting in April 2024. Pacific leaders are refusing to allow Indonesia to hide their crimes any longer. As well as UN investigation, we demand an end to the 60-year blackout on international and domestic journalism in West Papua. No more hidden genocide, ecocide, and ethnic cleansing. 

Lately, new TNI actions have displaced even more Papuans in Maybrat, an area that has suffered greatly over the past two years. Two Indonesian soldiers were recently shot by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) as a result of military buildup there. According to UN figures, up to 100,000 West Papuans were displaced between 2018 and 2022, including tens of thousands in Maybrat and neighbouring regencies. My country has been under siege for half a decade now. We urgently need a military drawdown to allow civilians to return home, children to attend school without fear, and elders to tend their gardens in peace.  

I also call on all relevant parties to do more to ensure that New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens is released from captivity unharmed. It is now close to a year since Mehrtens was kidnapped by a TPNPB group under the command of Egianus Kogoya. I have great sympathy for Mehrtens and his family: his safe return must be the highest priority for everyone involved. The ULMWP Executive has been working behind the scenes to try and secure his release through private channels, and I again reiterate that I am ready and willing to work all parties towards this end.  

Unfortunately, Mehrtens has inadvertently been made into a pawn in Indonesia’s colonial game. The Indonesian occupier has consistently refused outside aid – including from New Zealand – to help release the pilot through peaceful negotiations in favour of pursuing a military solution. At the same time, they are seeking to sow confusion and discord around this situation, including by spreading the lie that the TPNPB had asked for money in exchange for releasing Mehrtens. TPNPB messengers have been blocked, arrested and injured when attempting to share information with Indonesia, creating an intentional blackout that allows the spreading of more misinformation. Rather than seeking to take advantage of this situation by further militarising West Papua and isolating the TPNPB, Indonesia must drop their political and military agendas and work in good faith to secure Mehrtens’ release. 

To everyone in West Papua, I wish you a peaceful 2024, free from Indonesian violence and the indignities of colonialism. Our enemy is very powerful, and we cannot afford to be divided if we are to win our freedom. I therefore invite all West Papuans to rally behind the ULMWP. Everyone must respect the people’s Congress that took place in November – this is the highest body according to our constitution, and places the ULMWP’s peaceful struggle for independence in the hands of ordinary West Papuans. I call on all our military factions, all political groupings, and all international solidarity groups in the Pacific and around the world, to respect and honour the Congress resolutions.   

May 2024 bring continued progress towards Merdeka. God bless West Papua. 

Benny Wenda