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Indonesia

200 priests seek foreign help in Indonesia's Papua region

International community urged to lend its weight to bringing about a ceasefire between rebels and security forces

200 priests seek foreign help in Indonesia's Papua region

Civilians take refuge at Bilogai Catholic Church in Papua's Intan Jaya district on Oct. 29 due to fighting between Indonesian security forces and rebel groups. (Photo supplied)

Nearly 200 Catholic priests in Papua have called on the international community, including the United Nations, to play a more active role in bringing peace to Indonesia’s violence-plagued easternmost region.

In addition to diocesan priests, Franciscan, Augustinian, Jesuit and Missionaries of the Sacred Heart clerics were among 194 priests who said their call was part of an effort to be "proactively involved in the fight for justice, truth and peace" in Papua.

The region is caught in the grip of an insurgency being waged by separatist rebels against security forces in which innocent civilians are caught in the middle, they said in a statement.

The priests asked other countries to join them in urging rebels of the National Liberation Army of the Free Papua Organization and security forces to call and observe an immediate ceasefire.

"We also firmly support inviting the UN high commissioner for human rights to come, see and hear the actual human rights conditions in Papua," they said.

They also called on the government and agencies providing funds for development in Papua to review certain policies being conducted such as increasing troop deployments, which triggers more violence and increased state oppression.

Everywhere there are shootings of civilians. There is no transparent legal process to address such rights violations, let alone end them

"There are even those in government who accuse priests who talk about human rights issues of being among the separatists," they said.

The priests said they were saddened by the continuing violence.

“Everywhere there are shootings of civilians. There is no transparent legal process to address such rights violations, let alone end them,” they said.

They pointed to the destruction of hundreds of houses in Pegunungan Bintang district last month by security forces supposedly pursuing members of a rebel group. The priests said it led hundreds of people to flee as far as neighboring Papua New Guinea.

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They also mentioned the death of a two-year-old boy and the wounding of a six-year-old child in a clash between suspected separatist rebels and soldiers last month near a military post in Intan Jaya district.

According to Gustaf Kawer, coordinator of the Association of Human Rights Advocates for Papua, at least 60,000 Papuans are still displaced due to the violence.

Father John Bunay, a spokesman for the priests, said they were speaking for Papuans whose lives were under constant threat.

"What they hope and what we ourselves feel is important is to create a peaceful land in Papua," he told UCA News on Nov. 17.

To stop this kind of denial, which is very embarrassing, let the UN come here to see our situation. We hope other countries listen to this

He said they also want Papuans to feel the presence of the Church, "that the Church in Papua is present among the suffering people."

“We are from five dioceses in Papua. Even though the bishops of these dioceses are silent over what is happening, we hope our voices echo in the hearts of the people," he added.

He said they were appealing to the international community because the Indonesian government often does not recognize the dire situation in Papua, and even covers it up, including at several forums at the United Nations.

“To stop this kind of denial, which is very embarrassing, let the UN come here to see our situation. We hope other countries listen to this," he said.

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