Because the last protests of West Papua are different from the previous ones – 04-Sep-2019

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Thousands of people protested in the easternmost territory of Indonesia in the last two weeks, burning government buildings and clashing with police, causing dozens of deaths and injuries.

Demonstrators' demands range from ending racial violence to referendum demands on the independence of the region.

It is not the first time The Papuans took to the streets to demand independenceand accidents of armed resistance to Indonesian rule in the provinces of Papua and West Papua they have occurred periodically over the years.

But these latest protests have not only been the largest held in the region for years, but they have also taken the support of the whole of Indonesia.

"Today's protest is different because it is so widespread," said Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher on Human Rights Watch.

While the previous movements were largely orchestrated by leaders of the Papuan liberation in exile, these recent protests erupted within West Papua and have since spread to other provinces.

Mr. Harsono said he counted protests in 30 cities both inside and outside the region during the first week.

"The spread of the protests indicates the profound frustration among the indigenous Papuans against the Indonesian government," said Harsono at ABC.

While the riots continue, let's take a look at how the latest protests started, what the authorities did in response and the location of Australia on West Papua.

What triggered the protests?

The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua – often collectively referred to as West Papua – share an island and ethnicity with Papua New Guinea.

While the eastern part of New Guinea had been colonized by Britain and Germany before the Australian administration – later gaining independence as Papua New Guinea – West Papua remained a Dutch colony until it was delivered at Indonesia in 1963 through the United Nations.

Some activists and armed groups have fought for independence since then, and the region has been persecuted by accusations of racism and discrimination against the native population.

Harsono has listed violations of human rights, impunity, drastic demographic changes, environmental degradation and poverty among the reasons for the growing frustration of the local population.

On August 17 – marking the Indonesian declaration of independence from the Dutch colonial rule – a group of Papuan students declared that they had been barricaded in their dormitory during the night by vigilant nationalists who cut off power at the building and sang insults racist.

The crowd said the students committed "slander" on the Indonesian national flag, e the police intervened to break into the building, firing tear gas, injuring five and arresting 43 students who were later released without charge.

The footage of the military officers they called "monkeys" the students quickly circulated on social media, arousing outrage and "one of the greatest protests in the whole region", according to the leader of the Movement for the independence of the Western Papuan Victor Yeimo.

"It's not just about being called monkeys," Yeimo told ABC.

"It is the accumulation of anger of the Papuan people who were treated as animals in Indonesia."

How did the authorities respond?

Since then, the protests have spread and become more violent, with news of government buildings, tax offices and a burned-out prison.

In response, the Indonesian government has blocked Internet access in both provinces, banned all protests and deployed some 6,000 additional security forces.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo was due to travel to West Papua late last month, but his visit was delayed several times.

"There is no tolerance for the rioters and anarchists," Widodo tweeted last week.

"As far as Papua is concerned, appropriate legal actions have been taken against civilians and the military".

At the height of the violence, the police said that the protesters were armed with bows and arrows, machetes and spears and that a soldier and a civilian were killed by arrows and another civilian died after being shot in the leg.

But several activists reported that the police shot at the crowd killing six people before arresting dozens of protesters.

Harsono said that verifying information in West Papua is always a challenge as the authorities have "limited access to the provinces since the 60's."

"Foreign journalists find it difficult to enter the area. Local journalists are regularly harassed, intimidated, if not co-opted with the money," he said.

"Without independent journalism, it is very slow and difficult to verify the facts in West Papua".

The protests also spread to other cities of Indonesia and received widespread attention across the country through social media.

Asep Komarudin of the Coalition for Civil Society Democracy told ABC that not only Papuan students participated in a recently organized protest in Jakarta, but many university students also called for an end to racism in Papua.

Komarudin said that eight protesters were arrested in Jakarta and six remained in custody.

What do the protesters want?

While the protests started largely as an invitation to end racism, restore Internet access and remove the extra troops deployed in the region, there is also a strong demand for self-determination.

In 1969, a referendum was held called Act of Free Choice to allow Western Papuans to decide their future.

However, it has since been criticized as a fraud due to reports of military coercion of the small part of the Papuan population that was allowed to vote.

The protests renewed the requests a new inclusive referendum allow the Papuans to decide for themselves whether they want independence or remain part of Indonesia.

But the percentage of native Papuans in the region has been in decline for decades due to the government's transmigration policy that has resettled Indonesians from heavily populated regions – most commonly Java.

"All aspects of the Papuan livelihood are controlled by the Indonesians, they have taken over the region's economy, as well as all sectors of social and cultural life," he said.

"The Papuans feel like animals because [they feel like them] they have nothing of their own."

Although World Bank data shows that the per capita GDP of West Papua – which is rich in natural resources – is significantly higher than the national average, it is also the poorest region in the country.

West Papua has the highest mortality rates in Indonesia for children and pregnant women, as well as the lowest literacy rates, according to the World Bank.

Last week, Indonesia's security coordinator, Wiranto, told reporters that the government ruled out a vote of independence, adding that Indonesia should remain united.

"I think [referendum requests] are inadequate," Wiranto told the House of Representatives, adding that the unit of Indonesia was "final" and "non-negotiable".

"The referendums are for the occupied countries that have the choice of being independent or of joining … to the occupying country. But Papua and West Papua are legitimate territories of the Republic."

What is the Australian government's position on West Papua?

Australia officially recognizes "the territorial integrity and sovereignty over the provinces of Papua".

"Our position is clearly defined by the Lombok treaty between Indonesia and Australia and reaffirmed by our global strategic partnership," said a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"Currently Australia is collaborating with provincial and national stakeholders in Papua to address the main governance challenges, economic and human capital in the provinces of Papua."

Development activities include education, water and sanitation projects and support for local governance.

Beginning this week, four Australian citizens were expelled from Indonesia after having presumably taken part in a demonstration in West Papua.

On Friday, Mohammad Iqbal, a spokesman for the Indonesian national police, said he had investigated "foreign interference" in the recent riots.

"We cannot mention the country of origin and we cannot say which country is allegedly involved as it could be on every side – both groups and individuals," he told a press conference.

The head of the Indonesian national police, Tito Karnavian, also said that "foreign factors" were involved.

"We know that these groups [of protesters] have relations with international networks," he said.

Strict security measures are still in progress in Papua, according to officials who monitor a series of public facilities such as houses of worship, markets, shops and offices.

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