Indonesia: Papuan Separatist Leaders Announce Interim Govt, New Constitution

Ronna Nirmala
Indonesia: Papuan Separatist Leaders Announce Interim Govt, New Constitution Indonesian students with the Free Papua Organization and the Papua Student Alliance display the West Papua separatist Morning Star flag during a rally in Jakarta, April 3, 2017.

The leader of a group seeking independence for Indonesia’s troubled Papua region announced the formation Tuesday of a “government-in-waiting,” as the United Nations human rights office expressed concerns about violence there.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) declared Benny Wenda, its Britain-based leader, president of the interim government. It also adopted a constitution that focuses on protecting the environment and human rights, the group said.

The announcement coincided with the 59th anniversary of the raising of the separatist flag for the first time.

“Today, we honor and recognize all our forefathers who fought and died for us by finally establishing a united government-in-waiting. Embodying the spirit of the people of West Papua, we are ready to run our country,” Wenda said in a statement.

The provisional government “aims to mobilize the people of West Papua to achieve a referendum on independence, after which it will take control of the territory and organize democratic elections,” the statement said.

Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta, called Wenda’s claim baseless.

“Papua being part of Indonesia as the successor country to the Dutch East Indies is final,” he said.

The Papua region was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only about 1,000 people.

The ULMWP made the announcement as Papuans marked the anniversary of the first raising of the separatist Morning Star flag on Dec. 1, 1961, and the adoption of the song “Hai Tanahku Papua” as the national anthem for West Papua.

Dutch colonial rulers did not recognize the Morning Star as a national flag but a territorial one. Days after its raising, then-Indonesian President Sukarno launched an operation to seize the far-eastern region from the Dutch.

The Indonesian government bans the flag. Violators can be charged with treason. In 2019, at least 13 activists and students were convicted for raising Morning Star flags during pro-referendum rallies.

Rebels: ‘We will continue to fight’

On Tuesday, 15 members of the Indonesian Popular Front for West Papua were arrested in Sinjai, South Sulawesi province, over allegations that they violated COVID-19 health guidelines on masks and social distancing and were responsible for sowing national division, according to officials.

Elsewhere, dozens of Papuans demonstrated in Central Ternate in North Maluku province, before being dispersed by police who said they lacked a permit.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), an armed faction of the Papuan pro-independence movement, said it marked the anniversary with flag-raisings in 33 locations across the region, which makes up the western half of New Guinea Island.

“[W]e have always performed military ceremonies, raised flags, sung the national anthem. With that spirit, we will continue to fight,” Sebby Sambom, a TPNPB spokesman, told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, national police spokesman Brig. Gen. Awi Setiyono said there were no major issues in the region.

“Nothing stood out in Papua related to Dec. 1,” Awi told BenarNews.

Last week, police in Sorong, a city in West Papua province, charged six people with treason for waving the flags during a rally.

Concerns about violence

On Monday, the U.N. Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights Office (OHCHR) voiced concerns about a recent spate of violence in Papua which left at least eight people dead in September and October.

“We are disturbed by escalating violence over the past weeks and months in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua and the increased risk of renewed tension and violence,” spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement posted Monday on the U.N. website.

She said OHCHR was concerned by reports of extra-judicial killings, excessive use of force, arrests and ongoing harassment and intimidation of protesters and rights defenders.

She cited the reported killing of a 17-year-old in an alleged shootout with the police on Nov. 22.

Shamdasani said those killed in September and October included two security force members, activists and church workers.

One of the victims, Christian pastor Yeremia Zanambani, may have been killed by security force members, she said, citing an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM).

“We urge the government of Indonesia to uphold people’s rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in line with its international obligations,” Shamdasani said.

Government efforts

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s chief of staff, retired Gen. Moeldoko, said the government would keep prioritizing the welfare of the Papuans and seek to resolve conflicts.

“If people are prosperous, [the separatists] will no longer have any influence on society,” Moeldoko told reporters on Tuesday.

In 2001, the nation passed a special autonomy law for Papua in an effort to mollify demands for independence.

In September, Mohammad Mahfud MD, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said the law would remain in effect but include changes mainly related to funding, which would be increased by 3.3 percent.

Since 2002, the government has disbursed 93.05 trillion rupiah ($6.58 billion) for Papua province and 33.94 trillion rupiah ($2.4 billion) for West Papua province, according to date from the Ministry of Finance.

Djohermansyah Djohan, a regional autonomy expert and professor at the Institute of State Administration, said poor management of the funds meant that Papuans saw little benefit.

“It’s ineffective. There must be improvements in the transfer model, monitoring and accountability,” Djohan told BenarNews.


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