West Papua: Thousands march for freedom

May 15, 2011

About 6000 people rallied in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian-occupied West Papua on May 2 demanding a referendum on independence. The demonstration also commemorated the illegal occupation of West Papua in 1963.

West Papua Media Alerts reported on May 2 that West Papua National Committee (KNPB) spokesperson Victor Yeimo said: “We want to show Indonesia and the international community that we are not just a handful of people who want independence. All people of West Papua want to be free.”

Heavily armed police blocked the march route, sparking a sit-in on the road which paralysed traffic, Indonesian-language website Jubi said on May 3.

A protest was also held in the Western city Manokwari on May 2, WPMA said that day. Along with calls for independence, the crowd demanded justice for seven local activists arrested in December for raising the West Papuan flag.

Two of the activists were charged with treason, the Jakarta Post said on March 31.

Jubi reported on May 2 that KNBP spokesperson Mako Tabuni said the protest was aimed at supporting a legal challenge in the International Court of Justice against the fraudulent 1969 referendum Indonesia used to justify its occupation.

In the lead up to the rallies, six KNBP activists were arrested for distributing leaflets in Wamena, WestPapua.ca said on April 30. Indonesian troops also covered Jayapura in Indonesian flags and forced many people to fly the flag from their homes.

Papuans are the poorest people in Indonesia despite the area’s abundance of natural resources, which are exploited by foreign and Indonesian corporations. This exploitation is enforced through brutal repression meted out by the Indonesian military.

On April 13, Indonesian police shot dead two men and burned down at least four houses in Moanemani, the April 16 Jakarta Globe said.

Radio New Zealand International said on April 15 that police opened fire on a group of people who complained about officers stealing money during a raid of a gambling venue earlier that day.

One man was killed and three others were wounded.

A second man was killed by a paramilitary Brimob unit which was mobilised to Moanemani after outraged villagers rioted over the killing, the Globe said.

The operation included locals being “terrorised, intimidated, beaten and shot”, as well as the destruction of cattle and gardens, an April 14 statement from West Papuan People’s United Struggle Front said.

The attack caused about 2000 people to flee to the jungle.

Indonesia granted West Papua “special autonomy” status in 2001 to try to quell growing calls for independence. This included the creation of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), a largely powerless body whose decisions were ignored by the Indonesian government.

Papuans have rejected the special autonomy system for failing to improve their lives or stop repression from Indonesian forces.

During January elections to the MRP, protests were held calling for it to be disbanded.

The April 13 Post sad Indonesian home minister Gamawan Fauzi has forbidden the new MRP from engaging in practical politics, saying it must focus on cultural matters.

Two elected members of the new council were blocked from taking their positions by the Indonesian government on April 7 because of their pro-independence views.

Former MRP chairperson Agus Alue Alua collapsed and died an hour after being told of his exclusion, Jubi said on April 9.

Hana Hikoyabi was refused inauguration for failing to “clarify her position” on her rejection of special autonomy, Bintang Papua said on April 14.

Hikoyabi condemned the decision as illegal and issued a formal challenge in a May 1 Bintang Papua article.

Independence activist and chairperson of the United Baptist Churches in Papua Reverend Socratez Yoman told Jubi on February 15 that the MRP had been rejected by the Papuan people and its continued existence would only add to people’s suffering.

He urged people to “press for something better”.

He also warned the political elite in Papua not to use the MRP to promote their personal interests.

“The Papuan people should be consistent in making no compromises with the members of the MRP now being appointed,” Yoman said.

Reverend Daud Auwe told a rally in Nabire on April 6 that the special autonomy system was “intended to accelerate the extermination of the indigenous Papuan people”, Jubi said that day.

“The intention is clear from the systematic and violent killings which have taken place up to now”, he said.

Activist Yones Douw blamed the special autonomy system for the culture of dependency and the destruction of the people's economy, the appalling condition of education and healthcare facilities for Papuan people and the huge number of Indonesian migrants being moved into Papua through government transmigration programs.

All of these led to the destruction of Papuan culture, he told Jubi.

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