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Papua floods may fuel tensions
Disaster in West Papua could add to local grievances as aid workers struggle to reach the affected areas.
Yasmine Ryan Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 18:03 GMT
Relief workers say they are struggling to reach West Papuans hit by heavy flooding in the Indonesian province.
Criticisms over tardy relief effort are already beginning to emerge from the region, where relations between the indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian state have long been difficult.
There are fears that a failure to address the humanitarian crisis could add to tensions over the recent killings of indigenous Papuan protesters by the Indonesian security forces in the towns of Wamena and Manokwari.
Denny Yomaki, a humanitarian NGO worker, told Radio New Zealand International on Thursday that some of the flood’s victims felt the state was not doing enough to assist them.
Aid workers told Al Jazeera the damage from the landslides has made it hard to reach the worst hit areas.
Hundreds have fled or been evacuated from the devastated seaside town of Wasior to seek shelter in Manokwari, the province’s capital. Most are staying with extended family or in makeshift shelters on a military base, Ridwan, a member of the disaster management team for the PMI (Indonesian Red Cross), told Al Jazeera.
“The current situation is very difficult, it’s very difficult to reach Waisor,” Ridwan said.
Red Cross barred
Ridwan said that the conflict was not affecting his organisation’s relief efforts in West Papua, but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is restricted from working in the province, even in the aftermath of the recent disaster.
It was forced to close its West Papua branch in April 2009, but is providing funding to the PMI’s response to the flooding.
“We are not actively present in the area for the present,” Patrick Megevand, the spokesperson for the ICRC’s Indonesia delegation, told Al Jazeera.
The government told A Jazeera it had dedicated 200 million rupiah ($22,000) to the relief efforts following the flooding, which left at least 91 people dead and and more than 800 others injured, many of them suffering broken bones.
Maman, an officer at the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB), said the government had sent tents, food and medical supplies to Wondama Bay, along with army, police, technicians and medical workers. A navy boat and three cargo ships have already set off for the area.
The flooding comes at a time when calls for independence for West Papua and Papua are growing, especially in the wake of heightened US interest in the provinces. Indigenous Papuan leaders say that the “special autonomy” status granted by Indonesia in 2001 has been a farce.
Nick Chesterfield of West Papua Media told Al Jazeera that if the aid were felt to be insufficeint by those living in the stricken villages there is a risk it would enflame the tensions between the indigenous Melanesian populations and Indonesian security forces.
West Papua has already been hit by two major earthquakes this year and the government-led relief efforts were “very slow,” Chesterfield said.
He also warned that the aid effort could be compromised by anger over two separate incidents in which the police have killed local residents in recent weeks.
The latest alleged killing was in Wamena, a town in West Papua’s highlands, just days ago.
Local authorities there have established the unarmed peacekeeping force, known as Balim Petapa, “to keep away the Indonesian police, their proxies and militias,” Chesterfield explained.
Violence broke out after a group of people from the force confronted police at the Wamena North airport to demand an explanation for the seizure of a box of berets – their uniforms – along with 40 million Rupiah ($4,468) in cash.
In the other incident, a priest, his wife and son were shot by Indonesian police in the city of Manokwari, which is close to the flooded areas.
Reverend Naftali Kuan, his wife Antomina Kuan and their 23-year-old son Setinus were shot by police on September 15 as locals protested a hit-and-run road accident by a member of the security forces, who fled to police headquarters after accidently running down an elderly Papuan woman on his motorbike.
In the days after the shootings, thousands of protestors took to the streets. Indonesian soldiers were sent in to quell the demonstrations.
“Manokawri has been one of the hotbeds for independence for years,” Chesterfield said. “If the Indonesian army doesn’t put down its guns and pick up its shovels, there’s going to be a lot of tensions there.”
Al Jazeera and agencies