Papua March Sees Thousands Demand Referendum on Self-Determination
Banjir Ambarita & AFP
Thousands of Papuans rallied on Thursday to urge the provincial legislature to end special autonomy and demand a referendum allowing them to determine their own fate.
An upper house of tribal leaders, the Papuan People’s Consultative Assembly (MRP), voted in June to reject Papua’s autonomy status, introduced in 2001 after Suharto’s military dictatorship collapsed in Jakarta.
Witnesses said that more than 2,000 Papuans in the provincial capital Jayapura, some of them wearing traditional outfits, were marching about 17 kilometers from the MRP office to the provincial legislative building.
“Special autonomy has failed to protect the rights of indigenous Papuans,” protest leader Markus Haluk said.
“We want to urge Papua’s provincial legislature to hold a plenary meeting to declare that special autonomy is a failure and return it to the central government.”
Haluk said the Indonesian government and Papuans needed to establish a dialogue mediated by the United Nations or a neutral country.
“It’s as if Papua is a dark cave, which is always closed and guarded by the government,” he said.
“The Papuan people want a referendum as a solution to our problem.”
The provincial legislature canceled a meeting that was supposed to be held on Thursday on the referendum request.
“This is a political issue and we’re still waiting for other political groups in the legislature to make their decision,” Golkar Party lawmaker Yan Ayomi said.
Legislators had previously promised to take the issue up with the government following a similar protest in June.
Meanwhile, Jayapura Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Imam Setiawan said that his officers had detained a French journalist identified as Edouard Jerome Francuise for covering the protest while only in possession of a tourist visa.