Indonesian: Military threatens to crush 'separatists'

Coinciding with the release of a report by Human Rights Watch exposing endemic human rights abuses in West Papua and the refusal to allow a member of the US Congress to visit the province, protests featuring the Morning Star flag were held.

The first protest took place on July 3 when a dancer unfurled a Morning Star flag during the opening ceremony of a four-day conference of the Papuan Traditional Council in the provincial capital of Jayapura. As well as being a traditional West Papuan symbol, the Morning Star is also the symbol of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which has been fighting a low-level insurgency against Indonesian rule since the 1960s.

The following day, the Antara News Agency described the situation as tense, with a much larger than usual police presence on the streets. Eight people were arrested after the conference closed (although they were subsequently released).

The protest followed on the heels of an incident in the city of Ambon in Maluku on June 29 in which a group of uninvited dancers managed to sneak into an event commemorating National Family Day and unfurl a South Maluku Republic (RMS) separatist flag in front of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and official dignitaries. Thirty people were later arrested.

Since then, there have been reports suggesting that security agencies were aware of the planned protest but allowed it to go ahead. This has raising speculation that elements within the TNI (Indonesian military) or police intentionally sought to embarrass Yudhoyono in order to push the government to give them a freer hand in dealing with separatism.

The Jayapura conference was to have been attended by Eni Faleomavaega, a Democratic member of the US Congress, but at the last minute the government refused to give him permission to go to Papua, saying his presence could "spark riots and encourage violence".

No doubt fresh in the government's mind was a one-day visit to Jayapura in early June by UN envoy Hina Jilani, which was greeted by hundreds of protesters calling on the UN to put pressure on Jakarta to overturn the 1969 referendum that resulted in West Papua's integration into Indonesia, and is widely seen as a sham.

On July 4, police broke up a rally by some 50 demonstrators from the United West Papua Popular Struggle Front (F-Parera-PB) in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta after they unfurled a Morning Star flag. Marching from their dormitory in the direction of the central post office they carried banners reading "Referendum yes" and "Autonomy no", and wore headbands and masks with the Morning Star symbol.

The students also unfurled a banner depicting Yudhoyono and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla as US puppets and demanded an investigation of rights abuses in the province.

The march was eventually halted by about 200 police, who told them they would only be allowed to continue if they left the Morning Star banners behind. After lengthy negotiations the students returned to their dormitory where they removed chairs and tables and blockaded the road for several hours.

The following day, around 100 Papuans demonstrated in front of the US Embassy in Central Jakarta wearing T-shirts with pictures of the Morning Star. Although closely guarded by police, no attempt was made to break up the rally.

According to the, later in the day police launched a sweep for indigenous Papuans living in the nearby area of Tanah Abang.

On July 7 in Yogyakarta, the right-wing Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia Defenders Front (FP-NKRI) said that it was planning to conduct sweeps in the city and surrounding areas claiming that the TNI and police are no longer capable of dealing with separatism.

According to a July 10 statement by the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, West Papuan activists say that extremist elements have already started threatening Papuan student activists involved in the demonstrations. Some 45 student leaders in Yogyakarta have fled their dormitories and gone into hiding following statements issued in the mass media by hardline Islamic and nationalist organisations the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Anti-Communist Front (FAKI). Over the last year both organisations have been involved in a series of premeditated attacks on the leftist Indonesian Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas).

Seemingly unwilling to respond to what a July 5 Jakarta Post editorial described as "further evidence that disenchantment with the central government is genuine", sections of the regime have instead sought to blame foreign parties.

Speaking at a discussion titled "Beneath the shadow of separatism" in Jakarta on July 7, the former head of the Trikora regional military command (which oversees West Papua), retired Brigadier General Rustam Kastor, claimed that foreign intelligence agencies are playing a significant role in the re-emergence of separatist movements.

"The people of Maluku are satisfied with Indonesia. In Papua the people also don't understand separatism. What is happening is that certain people in these two regions are being used by foreigners for their own interests", quoted him as saying.

Although saying separatism is a consequence of the government's failure to bring prosperity to these regions, legislator Ali Muchtar Ngabalin said he was "100 per cent convinced" that foreign actors were behind the incidents.

The commander of the Jayapura military command, Colonel Burhanuddin Siagian, who the UN has indicted on crimes against humanity in East Timor, responded in a rather more predictable fashion, saying that it is the duty of the TNI to crush any groups carrying out separatist activities.

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