Police kill 2 amid violent protest against Indonesian plan to divide Papua

Victor Mambor
Jayapura, Indonesia
Police kill 2 amid violent protest against Indonesian plan to divide Papua Activists hug while taking part in a rally calling for Papuan self-determination in Papua, during commemorations in Jakarta of the 60th anniversary of West Papua’s declaration of independence from Dutch colonial rule, Dec. 1, 2021.

Indonesian security forces killed two people and wounded several more when they fired into a crowd of hundreds of protesters agitating in Yahukimo regency Tuesday against a government move to create new provinces in the restive Papua region, police said.

Thousands of indigenous Papuans have staged daily protests since Friday against plans to carve Papua into six provinces. Critics say the plans are part of Jakarta’s divide-and-rule tactics to obstruct the separatist movement in Indonesia’s far-east.

Police claimed that the protesters in Dekai, the main town in Yahukimo, were attacking personnel and setting fire to property, but one protester said police responded with gunfire to some who were throwing stones.

“Police breached the line and took photos of the protesters,” one protester who gave his name as David told BenarNews. He said that police forced their way into the crowd to take photos, angering the demonstrators.

“The crowd did not accept [this] and had a quarrel with the police. During the argument, some in the crowd threw rocks at the police. Police responded to the stone-throwing with gunfire and tear gas. There was chaos and clashes,” he said.

The angry crowd then set fire to nearby buildings, including the Yahukimo Information and Communications Office, he said.

David said several people were still being treated at Dekai General Hospital for gunshot wounds.

Papua police chief Inspector Gen. Mathius Fakhiri claimed police took the action after protesters attacked officers and set fire to shops in Dekai as they were dispersing.

“After they finished with their speeches, there was commotion among the masses and because of provocation, they set fire to the row of shops,” Fakhiri told journalists.

Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal identified the two slain protesters as Yakob Meklok, 30, and Esron Wipea, 22.

“A police officer named Brigadier Muhammad Andi suffered an open wound on the head and is currently being treated by a medical team,” he said.

Didimus Yahuli, the regent of Yahukimo, said he regretted the fatalities but placed the blame on protest leaders.

“The Yahukimo regency government has stated that there should be no demonstrations,” he said.

Protests against the proposal to divide up Papua have been held across the province since last week, including in the provincial capital Jayapura, and in Wamena and Paniai. A rally in Jakarta on Friday turned violent, leaving several protesters and a policeman injured, officials and activists said.


An anti-government protester is treated for a gunshot wound at the Dekai Hospital in Yahukimo, a regency of Indonesia’s Papua province, March 15, 2022. [Piter Lokon/BenarNews]


The protests stemmed from a statement made by Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian in December, who said the government and lawmakers would deliberate on a bill in 2022 to establish new administrative units in Papua.

Last November, Mohammad Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, security and legal affairs, said that breaking up Papua into more provinces would help economic and social benefits reach those it was intended for more efficiently and sooner.

“In addition to our national strategic interests to strengthen the integrity of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, there is also the need to accelerate social welfare,” he had said about why the government wanted to divide Papua into smaller units.

Papua has been home to a separatist insurgency since the 1960s. Indonesian security forces have been accused of human rights abuses in counter-insurgency operations.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua – like Indonesia, a former Dutch colony – and annexed the region that makes up the western half of New Guinea island.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a United Nations-sponsored vote, which locals and activists said was a sham because it involved only about 1,000 people. However, the U.N. accepted the result, which essentially endorsed Jakarta’s rule.

In 2003 the Indonesian government divided the western half of New Guinea island into two provinces – Papua and West Papua.

Now, officials have said the government is considering creating four new provinces: Papua Tabi Saireri, Pegunungan Tengah (Central Highlands), South Papua and Central Papua.

Theo Sitokdana, a Papuan activist and political observer, said he agreed that Papua should be divided into smaller units, but not new provinces.

“What should be encouraged is the creation of new villages, districts and regencies, not provinces,” Sitokdana told BenarNews.

“Because those are where Papuan indigenous people are. [By making new administrative units] indigenous Papuans can have more access to basic social services.”

Agus Sumule, a lecturer at the State University of Papua, said no academic studies had been done on the feasibility of creating new provinces.

He argued that there would be funding gaps for new provinces that are not resource rich. 

“For example, before the creation of West Papua Province, areas that are now regencies in West Papua received a share of Freeport’s revenue, but now they don’t,” Sumule told BenarNews.

In a report published in 2013, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said that divisions at the regency level in the 2000s had failed to improve relations between Papua and the central government.

“If divide-and-rule policies in the early 2000s were based on the premise that smaller units would help defeat separatism, it is difficult to see any clear correlation between number of administrative units and support or lack thereof for independence,” said IPAC, a think-tank based in Jakarta.

Though new regencies allowed unrepresented clans to have a stake in the political process and helped focus attention on the lack of development there, serious problems of conflict and corruption had also arisen in many of the new districts that were not helpful to either development or peace, IPAC said.

A researcher at the Papua Peace Network conflict resolution group, Adriana Elizabeth, said some members of the Papuan elite had pushed for the creation of new provinces to gain power.

“There are economic and political deals. New leaders mean new political largesse. The central highlands region is rich [in natural resources], including Freeport in Mimika, and investors obtain permits from the local government,” she said.

Adriana said carving up Papua serves Jakarta’s strategic and security interests.

“If one province becomes independent, Indonesia still has other Papua provinces,” she said.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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