Johnny Blades, RNZ Pacific Journalistjohnny.blades@rnz.co.nz

Indonesian civilian militia groups are stoking tensions in West Papuan towns and cities after widespread protests across the region in the past two weeks.

The protests were sparked by racist harassment of West Papuan students in Javanese cities but have developed into the largest Papuan independence demonstrations for decades.

However, the protests have given way to unrest and deadly violence, while fears mount over a crackdown by Indonesian security forces in the region.

Indonesian police have arrested dozens of people in the capital of Papua province, following the protests and unrest last week.

The second major wave of protest in Jayapura in the past fortnight lapsed into rioting involving the burning of the Papuan People’s Assembly complex and other buildings.

Jayapura burning after protestors torched the Papuan provincial capital and other buildings, 29 August 2019

Jayapura burning after protestors torched the Papuan provincial capital and other buildings, 29 August 2019 Photo: Supplied

Protestors also occupied the provincial government buildings, hoisting the banned Papuan Morning Star flag at the top of the flagpole at the governor’s office.

Governor Lukas Enembe has appealed for calm, urging Papuans not to destroy public facilities while holding demonstrations.

But he also said it was important that those behind the racist harassment of Papuans at a student dormitory in Surabaya last month – whether community members or security officers – are held to account.

The flow of information about the protests has been disrupted since Indonesia’s government blocked internet access to Papua almost two weeks ago, claiming it was a necessary measure to stop ‘hoax’ news spreading.

Yet in recent days reports have filtered out about groups of non-Papuan residents in Jayapura clashing with protestors or attacking them.

A young Papuan man was killed from a gunshot after a group of vigilantes from another part of Indonesia attacked Papuan students in a dorm in the early hours of Sunday in Abepura. Around a dozen other students were injured, with at least one still in a critical condition.

Police blockade the protest in Jayapura.

Police blockade the protest in Jayapura. Photo: Whens Tebay

The deceased student’s family has blamed police, while various reports linked the attack to an Indonesian nationalist unit named Masyarakat Nusantara.

Police said the security situation in Jayapura was now under control, although comments by Indonesia’s police chief about involvement of foreign provocateurs in the unrest instill little confidence in such claims.

Abepura-based university lecturer Paul Paramma said that since the protests surged, tension had boiled over between migrants from other parts of Indonesia – such as Java and Sulawesi – and Papuans, particularly Highlanders.

“People from outside of Papua they fly the Indonesian flag, they fly it everywhere, even in the middle of the road, to say to the demonstrators that ‘we are strong, we exist and don’t try to mess up with this town’.

“So there’s a big tension here in Jayapura between people from outside and indigenous people,” said Mr Paramma who explained that he asked for management of the University of Science and Technology to advocate for students who have been arrested.

Co-ordinated role

The crowd yelling racist chants at Papuans in last month’s mob siege on the student dorm in Surabaya was noted to have included members of nationalist civillian militia groups,effectively supported by Indonesian security forces who forcibly entered to arrest the students who they accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag.

Similar elements from the ‘red-and-white’ brigade, brandishing national flags and weapons, clashed with protesters who mobilised in several Papuan towns in recent days, including Fakfak where they appear to be directed by Indonesian security forces.

Deakin University international politics specialist Professor Damien Kingsbury said such militia groups were imported to Papua by the military some years back. At times like this, he explained, they play a co-ordinated role.

“Papuans are being attacked by these pro-Jakarta militia groups, as well as by police. They appear to be working very closely together,” he explained.

“When you look at the structure of militias in Indonesia, they are nominally independent, but they each have a direct structural linkage back to a military or police organisation.”

Protesters in Jayapura.

Protesters in Jayapura. Photo: Whens Tebay

Indonesia has deployed an extra 6,000 military and police personnel to Papua since the protests began two weeks ago. In parts they have responded with teargas and even gun fire.

Papuan rights activists say at least seven protestors and a military officer were killed during last week’s protest in remote Deiyai in a fracas prompted by police officers’ use of teargas , although authorities said the death toll was three.

Meanwhile, Mr Enembe made a direct appeal to security forces to keep the peace.

“The security forces – in this case the military and police – when handling the expression of opinions by the people of Papua, both in Papua and other regions in Indonesia – should as much as possible make it a priority to handle these expressions in a way that avoids violence or arresting Papuans just for delivering the message.”

Authorities have forbidden further protests in Jayapura, but it is unlikely to stop people taking to the streets again as West Papuans sense the moment to keep pushing has arrived.

Indonesian police confront a protest leader in Jayapura.

Indonesian police confront a protest leader in Jayapura. Photo: Whens Tebay

President Joko Widodo’s chief of staff said he would visit Papua this Thursday to discuss the unrest with local leaders.

Professor Kingsbury described it as unlikely that Jokowi would meet any demands of the independence movement. But he said that given this is his final term in office, Indonesia’s president did have a chance to implement some reform.

“The real difficulty is going to be that any decision he takes in relation to West Papua would have to be passed by the lesgislature and that is heavily stacked with nationalists who would be pretty unlikely to endorse anything seen to be too sympathetic towards the West Papuan independence movement.”

Jokowi would also face resistance from Indonesian military commanders to any concessions to the movement, especially anything relating to a future referendum.

Source: RNZ

Calls to end violence in West Papua
PIFS Secretary General Meg Taylor. Photo: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
PIFS Secretary General Meg Taylor. Photo: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, has called for urgent action to end increasing violence in West Papua (Tanah Papua) along with a human rights investigation in a statement released on 2 September.

Her message has been welcomed by a member-led network of global civil society organisations, the Pacific network of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).

In Dame Taylor’s statement, she said she is “deeply concerned about the situation in West Papua, and I call for calm, and restraint by all parties”.

“We reiterate our calls for all parties to protect and uphold the human rights of all residents and to work to address the root causes of the conflict by peaceful means.”

“I repeat the recent call by Forum Leaders in Tuvalu for the parties to finalise the timing for a mission of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to West Papua (Papua),” she said.

Peacebuilders

Regional Secretariat of GPPAC Pacific, Executive Director of Transcend Oceania, Adivasu Levu said the escalation of violence is evidence of a prolonged conflict that requires urgent attention.

“As Pacific peacebuilders, we amplify the call for a human rights investigation as well as mobilization of peacekeepers to support the realization of a just peace”.

Peacekeeping support should be accompanied by gender and youth inclusive community level dialogue and mediation, peace education and trauma healing, she said.

GPPAC Pacific Regional Representative and Chair of the GPPAC Board, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls said generations of women and children, generations of communities in Papua have continued to suffer in the struggle for independence.

“The current situation requires the United Nations and member states to work with civil society including the churches and peace networks to bring about an urgent shift to non-violent political negotiations as well as humanitarian assistance to affected communities.”

She said a peace dialogue process must support the participation of women and young people as key stakeholders in defining the outcomes.

Also calling for the deployment of a specific Pacific led peacekeeping and peace support mission to West Papua is GPPAC Pacific member, the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).

In an earlier statement, PCC referred to the increasing levels of violence as a humanitarian crisis and continues to urge Pacific Island countries to enhance diplomatic mediation with Indonesia that could result in a referendum for independence.

GPPAC is a network of global civil society organisations around the world dedicated to conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Members of the GPPAC Pacific include Talitha Project – Tonga, Transcend Oceania, FemLINKpacific, Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding, Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation – Bougainville, Vanuatu Young Women for Change, Vois Blong Mere Solomon and the Pacific Conference of Churches.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat via gmail.mcsv.net 
12:51 PM (5 hours ago)
to me

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General on events in West Papua

2.45 pm (Fiji Standard Time) Monday
02 September 2019

Suva, Fiji – Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor has expressed her concern at escalating violence in West Papua (Papua) including reports of several deaths, many injuries, arrests and damage to property.

“I am deeply concerned about the situation in West Papua, and I call for calm, and restraint by all parties.

“We reiterate our calls for all parties to protect and uphold the human rights of all residents and to work to address the root causes of the conflict by peaceful means.

“These events make the proposed visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights to West Papua even more important.

“I repeat the recent call by Forum Leaders in Tuvalu for the parties to finalise the timing for a mission of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to West Papua,” said Dame Meg Taylor.

[ENDS]

Media contact:
Catrina Rowe
catrinar@forumsec.org
M: (+679) 9986455
Communications & Public Affairs
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Vanuatu NGOs petition govt to follow up on West Papua outcomes

The Vanuatu Association of NGOs, or VANGO, has petitioned the government to issue a report to the Melanesian Spearhead Group on West Papua issues.

Ni-Vanuatu march in support of West Papuan self-determination aspirations in 2016. Photo: Vanuatu government
Ni-Vanuatu march in support of West Papuan self-determination aspirations in 2016. Photo: Vanuatu government

VANGO wants the government to report on the outcome of the recent Pacific Island Forum summit in Tuvalu and on the plight of West Papuan students in Indonesia’s Java.

At the summit, Forum leaders adopted a stronger stand on pushing Indonesia over human rights abuses in Papua.

Shortly after the summit, racist harassment of Papuan students in Javanese cities triggered the biggest protests seen in decades in Papua, and related unrest.

The petition raised concerns about the response by Indonesian authorities to the protests, including a ban on internet access and an increased military presence.

It also expresses solidarity with Resolution 37 of the Pacific Forum which calls for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently investigate abuses in West Papua.

VANGO consists of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, the Christian Council, the National Council of Women, the National Youth Council and the Vanuatu Free West Papua Association.

Its petition has been made in conjunction with the regional civil society group, PIANGO.

Source: RNZ