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Spirit of a free Papua burns on

The Australian - September 14, 2019

Amanda Hodge and Chandni Vasandani in Jayapura and Papua – In streets heavily secured by fresh contingents of Indonesian police and soldiers this week, those hit by recent violent protests and rioting in the provincial Papuan capital of Jayapura have begun rebuilding.

At intervals along the worst-affected stretches, signs erected by authorities on torched buildings read "VICTIM of riots, arson".

Among those pitching in is Jamal, a motorcycle taxi rider whose family migrated from Sulawesi under a government program in the 1960s but who are still referred to locally as "settlers".

"I am a victim too. They burned down my office," he told The Weekend Australian this week on a police-sponsored trip to the province, where authorities were eager to point out damage caused by protesters but less keen for reporters to speak to locals.

Papuan students and other protesters have been carrying their own signs in recent weeks; ones with messages rejecting a state they say has long rejected them. "If we are monkeys, don't force monkeys to fly the Red and White (Indonesian flag)," read one widely disseminated banner.

The protests across Indonesia's easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua – first peaceful and then deadly – were triggered last month by an attack on a university dormitory in Surabaya by a mob shouting racist slurs, including "monkey", at Papuan students accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag.

In the weeks since, Jayapura airport has been packed with students flooding back home amid an unprecedented wave of civil unrest that began as mass protests against endemic racism but has lent fresh momentum to the 58-year-old push for independence.

Indonesia has responded by shutting down the internet – though police have promised full restoration this weekend – and deploying 4000 more police.

At least six people have died in clashes between security and protesters – claims that it is higher are difficult to verify – and many more injured as the two sides have traded bullets and arrows.

Dozens have been arrested, including two high-profile activists this week, Buchtar Tabuni and Steven Itlay, accused of masterminding protests that have once again turned a spotlight on a dilemma: the irresistible force of Papuan nationalism meets the immovable object of Indonesian nationalism.

Melbourne University's Richard Chauvel says the protests show the racism so many Papuans have experienced has "in a sense been weaponised" by pro-independence protesters.

"The Papuans studying with students from other provinces and living in the university towns of the Indonesian heartland should be developing a greater identification as Indonesians, as well as a deeper knowledge of the many other cultures in Indonesia," he wrote.

Instead, the experience had simply reinforced their Papuan identity.

President Joko Widodo, in a meeting with a Papuan delegation this week, promised to build a presidential palace in Jayapura and provide at least 1000 more Papuan jobs in state-owned enterprises.

Activists want a fresh independence referendum to replace the 1969 Act of Free Choice, in which just 1025 Papuans chosen by the Indonesian military were allowed to vote. Papuan youth leader Samuel Tabuni said the Surabaya incident was "the straw that broke the camel's back, and an accumulation of the insults" Papuans were subjected to daily in a country where they did not feel welcome but were not permitted to leave.

"We Papuans joined Indonesia in 1969 and until today we still hear those terms – monkey, blackie, darkie, ugly," he said.

"Back in my university days in Jakarta, I would board an angkot (shared van) and people inside would cover their mouth and noses. That happened to our parents, it happened to my generation and it is happening still today.

"But it's not just racism. We feel our political rights are not acknowledged by the Indonesian government, law enforcement does not protect us, many Papuans are getting killed and there is no investigation into that. How can we feel part of this country?"

Indonesia's security minister Wiranto has accused Papuan activists of stoking unrest to keep the independence struggle in the headlines ahead of this month's UN General Assembly, when Vanuatu is expected to raise human rights abuses in Papua.

Benny Wenda, the London-based leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, does not deny he wants the UN to take up the cause but said attacks such as that which triggered the latest heavy-handed security crackdown were all too reliable.

Source: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/spirit-of-a-free-papua-burns-on/news-story/9dab5f46f1ab7d2718912bc34b7644f