Free West Papua Campaign founder Benny Wenda has written a tribute for fellow independence leader Dr John Otto Ondawame who died after suffering a heart attack in the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila on Friday.
Dr Ondawame, from the Amungme tribe in Mimika regency in Indonesia’s Papua province, was the vice-chairman of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation.
He was in his 50s and is survived by his wife and son. Wenda’s message of condolences:
Dear all,Today is a very sad day for my people as we received the news of the passing of a true West Papuan leader and freedom fighter, Dr John Otto Ondawame, the vice-chairman of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL).I would like to pass on my deepest and sincerest condolences to the family of Mr. Ondawame on this day of such grief and mourning for all us Papuans and Melanesians around the world.I myself knew John and we met several times to share sentiment for a Free West Papua and help to bring together a united voice for the West Papuan people.He was always an incredibly strong and charismatic leader, putting his people before his own life.Forever an outspoken Papuan leader, John was persecuted by the Indonesian military and forced to spend about half his life in exile in Sweden, Australia and finally Vanuatu where he died today. His incredible Free West Papua sentiment was undying and until his death, he firmly believed that one day our people will be free.It has brought me such great sadness to learn of his death and today and I feel a strong sense of grief and sorrow for the passing of a true friend and fellow Papuan who gave inspiration to us all.Throughout my life, I have learned a lot from John’s teachings and as my elder, he is someone I have always looked up to as a figure of wisdom for West Papuans.John reminded us all that no matter which tribe we come from, what group we belong to or what our name is, we are all Papuans and we all share the same dream and ideal of a Free and Independent West Papua, uniting us all in one voice for our struggle.John’s contribution towards a Free West Papua was both truly ground breaking and inspiring.He has been an important part of our struggle from its beginnings, devoting his entire life to the liberation of our people.West Papua had been waiting to be acknowledged as a part of the Melanesian family of nations for over 50 years and this year John help to make history by leading WPNCL into an application to join the Regional Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).This year, for the first time, the application was warmly welcomed by all the fellow Melanesian nations and we Papuans were finally greeted back into our ancestral Melanesian family with our fundamental rights to self-determination also acknowledged by the MSG.Among John’s other incredible achievements in the struggle, by helping us to finally cross the bridge and be accepted by our family as fellow Melanesians; John made one of the greatest contributions towards a Free West Papua.I will forever greatly miss John and his incredible spirit and passion for our country.I am fully confident that this spirit will never die and that it will continue to enlighten and inspire my people, especially the youth, for continuing to peacefully campaign to finally liberate our nation from colonial rule.I would like to give my dearest thanks and tribute to John for his outstanding commitment and courage in helping our people to be free.May you Rest in Peace, Dr John Otto Ondawame, you have contributed your entire life to the freedom of our people.We mourn the loss of your life, but we will remain confident and assured that with such strong support from around the world as you gave and the unity you preached, one day we will all sing and smile together in a Free West PapuaBenny Wenda
Free West Papua Campaign founder
Chairman of Demmak (the Koteka Tribal Assembly)