14 November 2011
Jayapura. Thousands of protesters staged a pro-independence rally in Indonesia’s restive and resource-rich Papua region Monday demanding a referendum for self-determination.
More than 3,000 native Papuans, some in traditional grass skirts, walked 13 kilometers from Abepura cityto the provincial capital Jayapura to meet local lawmakers.
“The Papuan people have asked for an immediate referendum for self-determination. We reject any dialogue with Jakarta,” protest coordinator Mako Tabuni said.
“The referendum is non-negotiable.”
Dozens of armed police attempted to block the protesters but failed to stop them from reaching the local house of representatives in Jayapura, where another 100 police waited on guard.
“We hope the protest doesn’t turn anarchic,” a local police chief, Ari Sirait, said.
In late October, armed security forces stormed a pro-independence assembly when a group of Papuan leaders declared the region’s independence and raised the Papuan Morning Star separatist flag.
At least three were killed in the clash, and videos recently broadcast on Australian television showed police beating unarmed protestors, including children.
For decades, ethnic Papuans have rejected the region’s special autonomy status within Indonesia and poorly armed separatist groups have fought a low-level insurgency.
A self-determination referendum in 1969 that officially handed Jakarta power over Papua was widely seen as rigged.
Indonesia has strict treason laws and courts have handed down stiff penalties -- from 20 years in jail to life -- for people caught with separatist symbols such as the Papuan Morning Star.