Deadly protests and sweeps in West Papua

Another escalation in the ongoing struggle in West Papua. From AP, March 20:

Calm returned to Papua Province yesterday after three days of tension following a deadly protest against a massive US-owned gold mine in the eastern Indonesian province.

Police have arrested 13 of more than 70 people questioned in connection with the violence — in which four security officers were bludgeoned to death — on charges ranging from destruction of property to assault and murder, chief detective Colonel Paulus Waterpauw said.

The killings highlighted the hatred many residents of Indonesia’s easternmost province feel toward the country’s soldiers and police. Human rights activists accuse authorities of planning a purge of pro-independence activists in the wake of the latest bloodshed.

Protesters say the mine, which is owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, has earned the New Orleans-based company billions of dollars, but the local firm has received little benefit. Freeport, which has acknowledged paying millions of dollars to government troops for security, also is identified with Indonesian oppression by many Papuans.

The province was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 by former dictator Suharto after his security forces orchestrated a referendum in which only 1,025 hand-picked supporters of Indonesian rule took part. The vote is now widely regarded as a sham, and Papuans are demanding a true ballot on self-determination, akin to the one that ended Jakarta’s rule in East Timor in 1999.

On Thursday, mine protesters killed three policemen and an air force officer in a rampage when gun-toting security forces fired tear gas and charged protesters with batons in Jayapura, the provincial capital. Papuans said the police shot first, injuring several people, before protesters attacked the security forces.

But by yesterday, no police were left guarding or patrolling the streets around the campus of Cendrawasih University, the location of Thursday’s clash.

“People are now going to churches without fear, while shops, stalls and street vendors have returned to their normal activities,” Waterpauw said.

And you’ve got to love this blame-the-victim propaganda. From Australia’s The Age, March 20:

Deadly clashes in Papua, in which four security officers were killed by demonstrators, were planned as a stepping stone to full independence for the restive province, Indonesian authorities said.

The protests last week against a massive US-owned gold and copper mine may also have been engineered to become as notorious as the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor, in which Indonesian troops shot dead 271 demonstrators, Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said.

“It’s true. At first it was going to be made into something like Santa Cruz,” Sudarsono told the Koran Tempo newspaper.

Separatists among the demonstrators thought Indonesian security forces would open fire on the crowd and transform the protest into an international human rights incident, he said.

But instead three police and an air force officer were killed, defusing thoughts the clash would morph into another Dili massacre, Sudarsono said.

The Santa Cruz shootings helped galvanise international opposition to Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor, which ended in 1999 after an independence vote marred by an orgy of bloodshed unleashed by pro-Jakarta militia.

Former foreign minister Ali Alatas called the massacre a “turning point”, which set in motion the events leading to East Timor’s nationhood.

See our last post on indigenous struggles in Indonesia.