MORE than 300 Indonesian police and soldiers, together with armoured vehicles, were occupying the West Papuan parliament last night.
West Papuan analyst Camellia Webb said as many as 20,000 people took part in an initial rally in Jayapura on Thursday, making it the biggest rally since the fall of Suharto in 1998. About 4000 continued to occupy the parliament building last night.
Radio New Zealand reported that up to 50,000 people had taken part in the initial protest.
An upper house of tribal leaders, the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), voted last month to reject Papua’s autonomy status, introduced in 2001 after the fall of the Suharto military dictatorship in Jakarta.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian government’s military campaign to control the rebellious province may have been inadvertently aided by a report from the International Crisis Group, which blamed the resistance movement for a spate of violent incidents, according to a Sydney University study.
The authoritative report by the Brussells-based ICG was followed by punitive operations by the Indonesian military in the Papuan highlands, which brought “grave consequences” for civilians in those areas.
“The ICG report strengthens the Indonesian government’s position that they are fighting violent guerillas in West Papua rather than a legitimate, popularly backed resistance movement, and the ICG’s views have been echoed in international reporting on the conflict,” says a paper by the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
The Sydney University study, written by Jim Elmslie and Camellia Webb, a PhD candidate, says evidence relied on by the ICG included selective quoting from Indonesian tabloid press reports, hearsay and discredited interrogation testimonies.
The authors did not interview the person they identified as the main actor in these events, Victor Yeimo.
The ICG report characterises the resistance movement, the West Papua National Committee and Mr Yeimo as militantly radical, promoting the use of violence for achieving the political goal of a referendum on Papuan independence.
The authors said they found the WPNC to be “primarily a media and information clearing house that expresses mainstream views held by a wide spectrum of Papuan civil society and political organisations”.
The ICG’s Jakarta analyst, Sidney Jones, said last night the Sydney University report was “more political polemic than serious criticism”.
“For all its efforts to discredit our findings, its sources are limited to pro-independence voices,” Ms Jones said.
“We interviewed all sides, including members of the KNPB, the OPM, the police, church leaders, pro-independence activists, adat (customary) leaders, NGOs, detained student leaders and government officials.
Ms Jones added: “We know the report was controversial, in part because many, including the Sydney researchers, believe that all of Papua’s problems are attributable to outsiders and it is heresy to suggest that any responsibility be attributed to Papuan groups themselves. The reality is far more complex.”
The ICG report held the WPNC responsible for several recent acts of violence in West Papua.
These include an attack on the police station in Abepura in April last year, arson at the Cenderawasih University in Abepura in the same month and killings around the Freeport mine since June last year through to January.