20 Oct 2011

Third Papuan People's Congress ends in chaos

7:43 pm on 20 October 2011

The Third Papuan People's Congress in the capital of Indonesia's Papua province has ended amid chaos with Indonesian security forces making mass arrests of delegates.

The Congress was just the third edition of this major assembly of Papuan leaders and tribal representatives since 1961 when the western half of New Guinea was still under Dutch control.

Affirming Papuan self-determination aspirations, this congress was always expected to run into problems from security forces.

There are unconfirmed reports that at least two people were killed after soldiers opened fire on the delegates.

Johnny Blades reports.

About two-thousand Indonesian military and police officers were deployed to Jayapura's Taboria Oval to monitor the Congress. Estimates of the number of Papuan delegates over the four days range from four to twenty thousand. Even before the trouble broke out, international concern was being voiced at the security forces' response to the event. The Asian Human Rights Commission's Norman Voss questioned what he called a disproportionate deployment to a peaceful and legal gathering.

"And the question of why the national army is repeatedly involved in these events is very unclear because these are not issues of major civil unrest. These are civil actions and the extent to which the military is involved is unreasonable and not justifiable."

While many Papuans stayed away, fearing a brutal military crackdown, those in attendance made strong calls for independence from Indonesia. The head of Papua's Baptist church Reverend Socratez Sofyan Yoman says delegates only seek peaceful ways to achieve self-determination.

Long time, long period, self-determination is their main demand, self determination on their own ends. And also they demand that the Indonesian government and the international community, the United Nations, recognise their political right.

Yoab Syatfle, the secretary of the Papua National Consensus Team, says the outcome of the Congress was a decision to recover the independence that the former Dutch territory had briefly asserted before being taken over by Indonesia in the 1960s.

To determine the future of the Papuans, especially to independence. So that's why the declaration consists of seven items. One item is about Indonesia returning independence of West Papua on December 1st in 1961.

But shortly after representatives from Papua region's tribes declared an independent state of West Papua, security forces began firing tear gas and warning shots, then rounding up delegates. Police made more than 300 arrests including that of the Papuan Customary Council Chairman Forkorus Yoisembut, who was proclaimed as President of the State of West Papua. Police units remain on high alert throughout Jayapura.