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Indonesian Major General Erfi Triassunu denies firing on Papuans

The Australian - October 20, 2011

Michael McKenna and Peter Alford – The military chief of West Papua's Jayapura district last night denied his troops had shot into a crowd of pro-independence activists and killed at least one.

Major General Erfi Triassunu said TNI troops and police had only fired into the air to break up the Third Papuan People's Congress after an activist began reading a declaration of independence from Indonesia.

According to two reporters at the scene at the Lapangan Zakeus sports ground in Jayapura, police and soldiers broke up the congress's final session, scattering about 5000 activists and taking away at least 100 under arrest.

They included Papua Customary Council chairman Forkorus Yaboisembut, who had had just been elected president of a "transitional government for the Republic of West Papua", according to the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy.

Trouble erupted when he led the reading of the declaration and raised a banned Morning Star flag. However, the reporters did not confirm initial claims that shots had been fired into the crowd or that at least one activist had been killed.

The final day of the three-day congress, whose organisers had been denied the use of Cendrawasi University by authorities, opened under ominous circumstances.

Amid authorities' claims that the congress of tribal and community groups with the aim of advancing the political and civil rights of indigenous Papuans had been hijacked by militants, hundreds of armed police and soldiers imposed heavy security around the venue yesterday morning.

Organisers said the TNI and police presence scared away thousands from yesterday's session.

One journalist told the Jakarta Globe that chaos erupted as some leaders began reading a declaration of Papuan independence. Firing warning shots into the air, according to General Erfi, troops and police moved in to break up the gathering.

According to the journalist, shots also appeared to be fired from nearby hills.

Initial reports suggested at least one person was killed and others were wounded, with West Papuan Media's Nick Chesterfield saying his sources were unsure how many were hurt.

"We are getting reports that the unarmed community security guards were shot and that several women who tried to help them were also shot," he said. "Others were apparently beaten by police and the troops."

A witness claimed that the military and police then stormed the congress and "killed many, many people". "They just started shooting all the people, and chasing them into the jungle," the witness said.

Australian diplomats said they were getting "mixed messages" from the provincial capital. A spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd last night said she was unaware of people being shot at the gathering.

General Erfi denied there were any casualties. "Now it's been concluded, it's already all right. We had heard that there was an indication of subversion, to change the state ideology," he said.

Tensions in the province have heightened in recent years. Last year, the Indonesian government acknowledged a video showing six soldiers torturing two West Papuans. The video, which came into circulation on YouTube, caused an international furore and refocused attention on West Papuan separatism and the Indonesian army's record of brutal suppression of such movements.