An estimated 5,000 Papuans, including members of the pro-independence National Committee for West Papua, activists and university students as well as seminarians, staged a rally calling for independence in Jayapura, Papua province, on April 13. (Photo by Benny Mawel)
Peaceful demonstrations supporting Papuan independence were held in several parts on the predominantly Christian Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua April 13.
There was a heavy Indonesian security presence at a rally attended by thousands in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesia's Papua province where a low-level insurgency has simmered for decades.
Demonstrators were demanding the United Liberation Movement for West Papua be accepted as a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
"We have the right to be a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. We are Melanesians, we are not Indonesians," Bazooka Logo, spokesman for the pro-independence National Committee for West Papua, told demonstrators out the front of the state-run University of Cendrawasih.
The Melanesian Spearhead Group is an intergovernmental organization comprising Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu, as well as the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, a political party from New Caledonia.
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua currently has observer status.
"We say 'no' to Indonesia. Indonesia is not Melanesia. Indonesia is Malay, which doesn't have the right to be a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, but Papua does," Logo said.
The pro-independence rally demanded that the United Liberation Movement for West Papua be accepted as a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. (Photo by Benny Mawel)
Daniel Gobay, a seminarian from the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, said the Indonesian government should understand that the Papuan people have the right to determine their own fate.
"The Indonesian government must know that such a demand must be respected," Gobay said while attending the Jayapura rally. "The Indonesian government or others cannot set a limit on the Papuan people."
According to Logo, similar rallies also were organized simultaneously in several areas in both Papua and West Papua provinces. Rallies also were held in the cities of Yakuhimo, Manokwari, Fak-Fak, Merauke, Timika and Sorong.
While the rallies were peaceful, Logo told ucanews.com that 11 members of National Committee for West Papua were arrested by local police during the rally in Jayapura. In Merauke in Papua province, 13 members of the committee were arrested during a rally there.
"They are still detained in local police stations. We don't know when they will be released," Logo said.
Jayapura police chief Jeremias Rontini said the arrests at the Jayapura rally were carried out because the protesters had not obtained a permit for the rally.
On April 5, 15 members of the committee were arrested in Papua's Mimika district during a prayer service for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua to be accepted as a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
Father Neles Tebay of the Jayapura Diocese has said that the Catholic Church, in collaboration with all religious leaders, has jointly called for a peaceful dialogue to settle the Papua conflict.
"We will continue to promote dialogue until the formal dialogue between the Indonesian government and the Papuans represented by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua takes place for the sake of a lasting peace," Father Tebay told a meeting of several bishops from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, April 9.
Some of the hundreds of police and military personnel who overshadowed the rally, which was held out the front of the state-run University of Cendrawasih, Jayapura, Papua province. (Photo by Benny Mawel)