West Papua: Fresh protests for freedom

August 6, 2011

Thousands of West Papuans rallied for independence on August 2, despite attempts by the Indonesian government to scare people away.

About 10,000 people protested across Indonesian-occupied West Papua, Radio Australia's Pacific Beat said on August 3.

They demanded a referendum on independence from Indonesia.

The largest protest took place in the capital Jayapura. Hundreds of heavily armed riot police and soldiers hindered protesters marching from Abepura and Waena who were trying to march into Jayapura, West Papua Media Alerts said on August 2.

The march was eventually allowed to proceed.

The rally in the western city of Manokwari was also initially disrupted by police, until they later relented, WPMA said.

Protests were also held in Wamena, Biak, Nabire, Paniai, and Timika. Solidarity actions were held in Jakarta and London.

The protests were called by the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) and supported by the whole pro-independence movement, WPMA said.

The lead-up to the rallies was marred by violence, suspected to be at the hands of Indonesian security forces with the aim of spreading fear and dividing protest groups.

Four people ― including a soldier ― were murdered and eight injured in an attack on a queue of cars on August 1, the Jakarta Post said on August 3.

Police allegedly found a Morning Star flag ― a symbol of the independence movement ― at the scene, leading them to blame the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Lambert Pekikir, the OPM commander in Keerom district told AFP on August 2: “The OPM wasn’t responsible for the shooting as there’s been an order from our headquarters to lay down our arms.

“When there’s a shooting, that’s certainly committed by the military, if not the police.”

Australian-trained “anti-terrorism” unit Detachment 88 had been mobilised to hunt down OPM members after a series of alleged attacks on police and military in Abepura and Puncak Jaya, Antaranews.com  said on August 3.

The latest violence follows months of increased conflict between OPM and Indonesian forces in the mountainous Puncak Jaya area in central West Papua, where the OPM headquarters is based.

Fighting between the OPM and Indonesian soldiers escalated in May when 600 troops from Indonesia's notorious 753 Nabire battalion went to the Puncak Jaya area as part of a public relations effort to improve the image of the Indonesian military.

The battalion's “social program” involved soldiers rebuilding houses, gardening, giving free medical care and delivering sermons at prayer meetings.

FreeWestPapua.org said on July 16 that locals boycotted the program and avoided the troops.

“The Papuan people living in Puncak Jaya regard the military as murderers of the Papuan people and have refused to accept these military programmes,” it said.

“The army's socialising programme in Puncak Jaya is nothing but a shield and a cover-up of the violation of human rights.”

The 753 battalion was responsible for burning several villages in 2010, as well as the torture of civilians, WPMA said on July 10.

The unit was implicated in an infamous video released last year showing soldiers torturing two Papuan civilians, including burning one man's genitals with a flaming stick.

WPMA said on July 10 that soldiers suddenly stopped the social program on July 6 and began sweeps of the Tingginambut area and surrounded the OPM headquarters where leader Goliath Tabuni was stationed.

“All the troops who were building houses are now burning them down again, according to local sources,” WPMA said.

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