WEST PAPUANS DEMONSTRATE FOR INDEPENDENCE

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By James Balowski

Melsol (Melanesian Solidarity) has condemned PNG Prime Minister Bill Skate for his support for Indonesian occupation of West Papua. Powes Parkop, general secretary of Melsol, said that millions of Papua New Guineans supported self-determination and independence for West Papua. In a letter, the Free West Papua (OPM) supreme commander, John Somer, has called on PNG parliamentarians to support a motion by Sandaun Governor John Tekwie. The motion calls on the PNG government to take up West Papuan independence and self-determination with Indonesia and the United Nations.

BROADWAY, New South Wales, Australia (July 21, 1998-Green Left Weekly)--- Encouraged by the student demonstrations in May which led to the resignation of President Suharto and the political concessions this forced on the new Habibie government, hundreds of pro-independence protesters have been demonstrating in towns and cities across West Papua.

Any illusions demonstrators may have had about B.J. Habibie's new "reform" government were dispelled on July 3, when live ammunition was used against student protesters at Cenderawasih University in the capital, Jayapura. Two students were seriously wounded.

On July 6, the military used rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse a crowd of pro-independence demonstrators on the island of Biak. More than 100 were wounded and at least three killed.

Human Rights Watch said that the protests were sparked in part by a May 22 letter to Habibie by 15 United States members of Congress. The letter, widely circulated in West Papua, called on Habibie to initiate "direct good faith dialogues with the peoples of East Timor and West Papua on human rights and a just solution to their political status."

Many interpreted this as meaning that the U.S. would back moves for independence.

On May 25, three religious leaders presented a report on human rights violations by the military in the Mapnduma area to Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission (Komnas). The report documented 16 killings, "disappearances" and widespread destruction of homes and church buildings in 1997 and 1998.

The abuses took place during operations led by the elite military command Kopassus -- which receives training in Australia and is also at the forefront of the occupation of East Timor -- to capture leaders of the armed Free Papua Movement. The religious leaders called for a full investigation and for Indonesian troops to be withdrawn and replaced by West Papuan troops.

On May 28 and 29, human rights activists and students demonstrated in front of the parliament, also demanding troop withdrawals and that those responsible for the abuses be prosecuted. Demonstrations by West Papuan students were held in Jakarta on May 29.

On June 11 and 29, Komnas sent two separate fact-finding teams to the area. On June 15, commission member Asmara Nababan confirmed the abuses documented in the report submitted to the commission.

On June 22, around 100 people demonstrated in front of the Jakarta Ministry of Justice offices, demanding the release of West Papuan political prisoners.

On July 1-3, a series of demonstrations demanding independence took place around the towns of Jayapura, Sorong, Biak and Nabire. On July 1, hundreds converged on the Jayapura parliament, citing the May 22 letter as support for their demands. Parliamentarians refused to meet with them, and just after midnight, anti-riot troops forced them to disperse.

The following day around 100 demonstrators returned but were blocked by anti-riot troops. A clash broke out, demonstrators pelting troops with stones and troops chasing and beating protesters.

A second clash occurred around noon, in which 10 were injured and three more detained.

At around 2:00 p.m., five people were sent to negotiate with the police commander. When they failed to return, demonstrators assumed they had been arrested and further clashes broke out. More buildings were attacked, including a bank and the Ministry of Communications.

According to some reports, any non-Papuans who approached were taunted, stoned or beaten; by the end of the day, 41 people had been detained.

On July 2, thousands of youths held a pro-independence demonstration at the district council of Sorong. They presented nine demands, including independence as soon as possible, the immediate release of West Papuan political prisoners, withdrawal of Indonesian troops and all Indonesian people and a review of the UN-supervised "act of free choice" undertaken in 1969.

When their appeals went unheeded, they burned the district council building, several stores and a car belonging to the district head. Five people were reportedly shot, and the crowd then attacked the district military commander, Colonel Nico Obaja Woru, who had to be hospitalized.

The demonstration that led to the shootings on July 3 began as students at Cenderawasih University held an open forum. The students beat up an intelligence agent, who died in the hospital on the following day. When word of the beating reached security forces, trucks full of anti-riot and regular army troops arrived and students, who were massed outside the campus, began throwing stones at the trucks.

Troops initially fired warning shots but then fired directly into the crowd. Steven Suripatti was shot in the head and is in a critical condition [He has since died.]. Corina Ruth Onim was shot in the knee. A July 6 report by Agence France Presse quoted the Jayapura Legal Aid Institute (LBH) as saying that students had found more than 10 bullet casings at the site of the shooting.

On July 6, the military opened fire on demonstrators in Biak who had raised the independence flag over a water tower near the harbor, where it remained for three days, guarded by some 700 demonstrators. At around 5.30 p.m., troops arrived and, when demonstrators refused to take down the flag, opened fire. Jayapura LBH said that 141 were wounded and three confirmed dead.

Although the military denied that there were any deaths, on July 5, Major General Sembiring, the regional military commander, apologized for the shootings and promised an investigation.

On July 12, however, he blamed foreign agencies for the protests. The official news agency Antara quoted him as saying, "There is strong indication of involvement of external parties in the demonstration in Irian Jaya [West Papua]."

The armed forces commander, General Wiranto, warned that the military would take "firm action" against anyone raising the West Papuan flag.

Despite the warnings, pro-independence demonstrations have continued, thousands of protesters in the remote Baliem Valley raising an independence flag on July 7.

[Much of material for this article was drawn from a July 7 press release by Human Rights Watch/Asia.]

Title -- 1570 POLITICS: Melsol supports West Papua Date -- 22 July 1998 Byline -- None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Green Left Weekly (Australia), 21/7/98 Copyright -- GLW Status -- Unabridged

This document is for educational and personal use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source before reprinting. PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific. Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius: niusedita@pactok.net.au http://www.usp.ac.fj/www/usp/soh/journ/nius/index.html

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