West Papua: Thousands brave military to rally for self-determination


The article below has been reprinted from http://asia-pacific-action.org.

Between October 15 and 17, thousands of West Papuans held rallies for self-determination in several parts of this Melanesian nation that has been occupied by Indonesia since 1962.

AFP reported on October 16 that at least 5000 people gathered in the Papuan provincial capital Jayapura that day to denounce the 1969 staged United Nations-sanctioned "referendum" that handed sovereignty of the resource-rich former Dutch colony to Indonesia.

The rally was watched by hundreds of riot police.

Carrying banners demanding "freedom" and calling for international attention, the Papuans tried to march on the provincial parliament building but were blocked by Indonesian police.

"We refuse [to recognise] the 1969 referendum and urge the Indonesian government to organise a new referendum of independence for Papuan people", the coordinator of this and subsequent protests, Bucktar Tabuni, said.

One speaker told the crowd through a megaphone: "Our children weren't born to be tortured and killed by Indonesia's security forces. Our only wish is for Papuans to be treated well as human beings."

The October 16 Jakarta Post reported that Indonesian police are questioning several witnesses after the West Papuan Morning Star flag was "raised in four strategic locations in Nabire regency, Papua" on October 15.

The flags, associated with the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and banned by the Indonesian occupation forces, were hoisted at the legislative council and regency offices, the Kalibobo market and Nabire's tourism office at around 3am local time, according to the Post.

"We have questioned five witnesses. We have not identified any suspects so far", Nabire police chief Adjutant Senior Commander Rinto Jatmono told the Post.

Meanwhile, Manokwari District Court has reportedly sentenced 11 suspects to eight months in jail for flying separatist flags in the regency on March 3 and 13.

The 11 hoisted the flags during rallies protesting government regulation 77/2007 which banned the display of "separatist flags".

The Papua Customary Law Council has drafted a special regulation recommending that the Morning Star flag be used as the provincial symbol, and submitted this to the Papua People's Representative Council.

Indonesian human rights activists, including former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), have urged the Indonesian government not to criminalise the display of such flags, saying they are merely a form of cultural expression.

The banned Morning Star flag was also raised in a dormitory for Papuan students in Yogyakarta.

A spokesperson for a Papuan student association in Yogyakarta, Roy Liqua, said the flag was raised to coincide with the inaugural meeting of International Parliamentarians for West Papua in London.

Students also said the flag was raised simultaneously in several regions in the country, and they were planning an action in Jakarta.

The Australian West Papua Association (AWPA) reported on October 21 that 18 West Papuans had been arrested the previous day for taking part in a peaceful rally held in front of the local legislative council in Jayapura that called for a review of the 1969 "act of free choice".

The security forces blocked roads as hundreds of people poured into Jayapura to take part in the rally . Tabuni said he had sought police permission for the rally. However, he was arrested along with 17 others.

Although they have subsequently been released it is also reported that another four elders have been detained by the police.

The Indonesian ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Bom Soejanto, said last week said that Indonesia needs the military cooperation of Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand to preserve peace, security and stability in the region.

AWPA spokesperson Joe Collins said that it is the actions of the Indonesian security forces in West Papua that will lead to instability.

AWPA has urged the Australian government to call on the Indonesia to rein in their security forces in West Papua and to also call on the Indonesian government to immediately release all West Papuan political prisoners as a sign of good faith to the West Papuan people.

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