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Indonesia ups security ahead of Papuan 'independence day'

Authorities say insurgent activity has increased in the run-up to the Dec. 1 anniversary marking the end of Dutch rule

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Indonesia ups security ahead of Papuan 'independence day'

Papuan students rally in Indonesian capital Jakarta on Aug. 22. (Photo supplied)

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Indonesia is beefing up security in its restive Papua region by deploying more than 1,000 troops ahead of anniversary events on Dec. 1 to mark what many Papuans say is their independence day.

Top military commander Hadi Tjahjanto and national police chief Idham Azis reportedly traveled to Papua on Nov. 27 to inspect security preparations.

Papua police chief Paulus Waterpauw said 1,300 personnel are on alert throughout Papua to address security concerns. "We do not give space to those who oppose the state [with violence]," he told reporters on Nov. 26.

Many Papuans believe Dec. 1, 1961, marked the birth of the West Papuan nation before the region was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 following a controversial referendum.

On that day Papuans were granted their freedom by the Dutch and raised a new national flag and sang a new national anthem. A low-level insurgency has been waged in the region ever since.  

The anniversary is often marred by violence and arrests. Last year more than 500 Papuans were arrested in several cities for joining rallies to mark the event and to demand an independence referendum.

At least 24 construction workers were killed a day later by gunmen in Indonesia's eastern province of Papua. They had been building a road and bridges in the remote and mountainous Nduga region.

Waterpauw said authorities were especially worried about security in four cities — Jayapura, Sentani, Wamena and Timika — following reports that separatists who had been in the mountains had begun to move into the cities.

He said security in Timika was being raised because it is the location of giant mining company PT. Freeport, a previous target of insurgents.

"There are reports that separatist groups are already around the operational area of PT. Freeport, so security forces have been ordered to be especially vigilant," he said.

He said raids were also being conducted to round up potential security threats. 

On Nov. 21, police said they arrested Iris Murib, a separatist figure who had been on the run for almost four years. He is suspected of involvement in an attack on a police station in Sinak in December 2015 when three policemen and one separatist were killed in a gun battle.

Meanwhile, Markus Haluk, coordinator of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, said Papuans were determined to celebrate the anniversary despite the increased security presence.

He said they would continue to work hard to realize their right to self-determination through a referendum. He also said the event would also commemorate the 200 Papuans reportedly killed this year as a result of the conflict in the region.

"We will also pray for political prisoners languishing in Indonesian prisons," Haluk said.

Meanwhile, a Catholic priest has called on Papuans to mark the anniversary peacefully.

"Papuans have the right to express themselves in celebrations. However, they should prioritize nonviolent methods in order to avoid conflict that would give the authorities an excuse to be repressive,” said Father John Djonga, a human rights activist based in Wamena, the capital town of the Jayawijaya Regency.

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