April 4, 2009
Christian Motte & Putri Prameshwari
Massive March in Papua Poll Protest
Thousands of people took part in a pro-independence rally in Papua Province on
Friday, calling for a boycott of the legislative elections.
The rally, in which students and activists from several universities and
religious and social organizations took part, was held in the town of Nabire.
Zet Giyai, the chairman of a pro-independence group, the National Committee for
West Papua, or KNPB, said the rally was held to show support for the recent
establishment of the International Lawyers for West Papua, an international
pressure group for the Papua cause based in the United States.
"We Papuans fully support the establishment of the ILWP. . The support of West
Papuan people can be seen in this crowd. This is the biggest action by Papuans
in Nabire," Giyai said.
He claimed that some 10,000 people had attended the rally but the figure could
not be independently confirmed. He also said that rallies would continue to be
held until April 6.
As some in the crowd shouted the word "Papua," others responded, shouting
"Free." A scream of "Elections" was met by a thundering "Boycott!"
Several protesters told the Jakarta Globe that they believed Papua was not a
part of Indonesia, and banners displaying the outlawed Morning Star separatist
flag were on display until police forced them to be taken down.
Mekky, a native student who joined the rally, said Papuans had chosen to end
the "oppression in the province this year."
Addressing the protesters by the local election commission office, where the
protest ended, Reverend Daud Auwe said, "We want independence, not an election."
Pro-independence sentiments have been on the rise in the sprawling western half
of New Guinea Island since the fall of the iron-fisted rule of former President
Suharto in 1998.
Sentiments were fueled by discontent over the alleged siphoning of the region's
natural riches by the central government, leaving little for the region, as
well as widespread human rights abuse by government security forces there.
The government attempted to curb pro-independence sentiments by according
broad special autonomy for Papua in 2001, giving it a greater part of the
revenues from its natural resources as well as enhancing locals' say in
decision-making in the region.
Meanwhile, in the capital city of Jayapura, Papua Police Chief Bagus Eko Danto
said 15 activists, mostly students, were detained for questioning for allegedly
vandalizing a car.
However, Victor Yeimo, a local KNPB activist, said they were arrested on
suspicion of trying to organize a rally.