People react as a building burns during protests in Wamena in Indonesia’s Papua province on Sept. 23, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
A bishop in Papua has called on security forces to look at a more peaceful approach to addressing unrest in the Indonesian province following a year blighted by violence that killed hundreds of people.
Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi, apostolic administrator of Merauke Archdiocese, called on the military and police, who have often been criticized by rights groups for adopting a heavy-handed approach with local people, to deal with indigenous Papuans “with love and hope.”
“Please, abandon violent approaches such as beatings and use of arms," he said in a New Year message on Jan. 1. Every problem “must be resolved through dialogue, which requires patience,” he said.
He was referring to what he called a year of violence which saw clashes between authorities and pro-independence groups and unrest in several cities sparked by an alleged racist incident in East Java in August when several Papuan students were reportedly called monkeys, dogs and pigs while being arrested for allegedly defacing an Indonesian flag.
Rioting in September in the town of Wamena in response to the racist incident in East Java killed 40 people.
In a year-end report, Papua police chief Paulus Waterpauw said there were 23 shootings carried out by “armed criminal groups" in which 20 people were killed, including eight soldiers and two policemen.
Meanwhile, 257 civilians were killed and more than 50,000 displaced by unrest in the province’s Nduga district following the killing of construction workers by a separatist group in Dec. 2018.
Bishop Mandagi also criticized the continuing arrests of activists, who included several students who were hauled out of a Catholic church on Dec. 1 and detained for carrying the banned Morning Star flag. The flag is looked upon as a pro-independence symbol.
The bishop also called on ordinary Papuans to show more restraint in the face of provocations to avoid more victims of violence.
"Love conquers hatred, tenderness conquers violence, forgiveness conquers revenge, law enforcement defeats street justice," said Bishop Mandagi, who has been in charge of Merauke Archdiocese since August following the death of the previous apostolic administrator, Bishop John Philip Saklil of Timika.
Father Anselmus Amo, director of the archdiocese's Secretariat for Justice and Peace, echoed the bishop's call.
“Such a call is crucial for a better future in Papua, which has been a focal point of human rights abuses for years,” he told ucanews.
Theo Hesegem, chairman of the Central Mountains Law Enforcement and Human Rights Advocacy Network based in Wamena, Jayawijaya district, said a hard approach will not solve problems in Papua.
“The regional government, provincial government and NGOs have pleaded with Jakarta to ease its approach to security by withdrawing troops but have been ignored,” he told ucanews.
He said if there is no change in approach “it’s difficult to see a better humanitarian situation emerging this year.”
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