Saturday, August 27, 2011

‘Forgotten’ Papua Waits for Jakarta as Violence Rages on

Prominent human rights activists urged the government on Sunday to hold immediate talks with people in restive Papua, as violence and calls for independence intensify.

Usman Hamid, from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), highlighted pledges made by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to hold talks with Papuans to quell the seeds of disintegration and armed conflict.

“The government is too busy taking care of all the corruption cases that have popped up. They have forgotten what is happening in Papua,” Usman said.

Law enforcers, he added, tend to generalize disturbances in the region and label all government critics members of the separatist Free Papua Organization (OPM).

“The perpetrators [of violence] might be criminal gangs, separatists or even the national security forces themselves,” he said. “That’s why we demand the National Police investigate cases of violence transparently.”

Benny Susetyo, a human rights activist from the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI), said Jakarta needed to address the issue of widespread unemployment and poverty among Papuans, as well as the problem of limited access to health care and education in the region.

“Sometimes, they [Papuans] feel like they are being ignored by the country, they feel marginalized. The state only takes their natural resources, without caring for the region’s people,” he said. “If the government keeps taking them for granted, I’m sure that there will be more separatist movements in Papua.”

Jeirry Sumampow, from the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), a Protestant organization, said conditions in Papua had deteriorated so badly that community-based conflic t s were emerging.

“Now it’s time for the government to act on its promises to Papua, to see the problems with open eyes, to ensure Papuans’ interests are a part of the nation’s,” he said.

Papua has been shaken by a series of shootings that have underlined what seems to be growing anger with Jakarta and its handling of the province.

Last week, shootings were reported in the provincial capital, Jayapura, and remote areas in the districts of Paniai, Dogiyai and Puncak Jaya.

A civilian was killed after an assailant fired shots in a residential area in Mulia, the capital of Puncak Jaya, at about 3 p.m. on Saturday. The victim was identified as a 40-year-old motorcycle taxi driver named Buasan.

“The ojek driver was shot in the chest, left elbow and right palm. He died instantly. No one has claimed responsibility for the shooting but we strongly believe that it was carried out by members of the OPM,” Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Wachyono said.

The officer said that soldiers stationed at a nearby military post fired at the assailant who was hiding in thick vegetation. “The military did try to pursue the perpetrator but he disappeared into the jungle,” he said.

Sources in Puncak Jaya said the victim was an informant for the military and had been targeted by the OPM.

This is the sixth shooting in Puncak Jaya in the last two months. At least five people have been killed so far, but Buasan was the first civilian casualty.

Separatists in Papua have been causing low-level disturbances since Indonesia annexed the resource-rich region in 1969.

Papuans say money earmarked for development is being diverted through corruption by bureaucrats.