Rex Rumakiek, a veteran campaigner for independence for his homeland of West Papua, lives in political exile in Australia. He serves as secretary of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). On the eve of West Papua Flag Day, an annual commemoration of the declaration of independence by the Free Papua Movement on December 1, 1961, Rumakiek was part of a group that raised the Morning Star flag over Leichhardt Town Hall in Sydney.
Morning Star flag raisings took place peacefully all around the world, but in Indonesian-occupied West Papua and several cities in Indonesia, peaceful flag raisings were met with violent repression and hundreds of arrests. Many West Papuans were beaten up by police or Indonesian ultra-nationalist militia.
"The flag raisings throughout Indonesia were a ULMWP coordinated activity", Rumakiek explained to Green Left Weekly in an interview on December 13. "There were a great number of Indonesians who participated this time. The West Papuan People's Petition calling for a referendum was also signed by many Indonesian trans-migrants to West Papua."
On December 2, 24 Indonesian road construction workers were killed in Nguda, in a highlands work camp along the controversial Trans-Papua road and bridge project. Sebby Sambon, a spokesperson for the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), which has opposed the project, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Since then, the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) have escalated their campaign of attacks on and bombings of villages in the area. Such attacks are not new; just three months ago villagers in the area were killed and displaced by similar military operations.
The killing of the 24 road construction workers was just the "latest flash point of the existing tension regarding the road construction contract run by the Indonesian military", Rumakiek told GLW. "It was bound to happen".
Rumakiek explained, "The TPNPB warned against the granting of the project to the TNI in 2016, but Indonesia's President Joko Widodo ignored them. It is a common knowledge that those employed by the company are members of the military and militia.
"In November, the TPNPB sent a letter to the construction company asking their workers to respect the December 1 flag-raising ceremony and not to work on that day or interfere with the people's activities. One of the construction workers made a video of the flag-raising ceremony. The TPNPB attacked their camp after they refused repeated requests by the people for the video taken to be deleted."
According to Rumakiek, the TNI then declared the whole district an "Area of Military Operation (DOM)".
"This has been standard practice for many years. Like many similar DOMs in the past, whole villages are destroyed, including houses, churches, schools, clinics, crops and animals. Those who escaped to the safety of the cold jungle or other districts would have nothing to live on. The TNI will also not allow help from outside the area, including from the Red Cross or from churches. No communication with the outside world will be allowed."
While this largely unreported war on West Papuan villages continued in the highlands, West Papuans held peaceful rallies in several towns. Once again, these were met with violence and mass arrests.
The ULMWP is campaigning for international support for a UN vote on West Papua in 2019.
"We will be campaigning all out up to September 2019 to convince more UN members to vote yes for the resolution", Rumakiek said. "Australians must lobby the federal government to support it. Ignoring the issue of West Papua will only prolong the violence and speed up the genocide of our people."