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Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Indonesian special forces are turning West Papua into “more of a hunting ground”, warns an exiled Papuan leader in response to the shooting of protesting university students this week.

“These were live rounds.”

Earlier, Benny Wenda, the London-based chair of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), said Indonesia was effectively imposing martial law.

More than a dozen students were wounded in the crackdown in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, on Tuesday with witnesses claiming Indonesian troops opened fire to disperse a peaceful rally, reports Virginia Langeberg of SBS News.

A young man was also severely beaten during the rally, according to video clips broadcast by SBS World News and shared widely on social media.

Months of fresh demonstrations have gripped the region as thousands of indigenous West Papuans renew calls for an independence referendum amid repression in the Indonesian-ruled Melanesian provinces.

Some 13 university students were injured in Jayapura on Tuesday, with victims and witnesses claiming Indonesian troops opened fire to disperse a peaceful rally of about 20 people.

Cause of tension
Indonesia’s control of the provinces has long been a cause of tension among indigenous locals with low-level conflict and independence movements simmering for decades.

Despite a heavy military presence in the region and the threat of covid-19, demonstrations calling for an independence referendum reignited in July.

It came after hundreds of thousands rallied in August and September of 2019, only to be silenced by a flood of more armed troops.

The mounting death toll of West Papua’s latest escalation in violence has seen Australia being pressured to take a stronger stance.

It’s estimated up to 70,000 people have been displaced and 250 killed in the past two years of violence.

Victor Yeimo from the West Papua National Committee said action would continue.

“Our message is very clear, West Papuan people need a political solution,” Yeimo said.

“We’re calling on our Melanesian and Pacific leaders to upgrade its resolution to get the people of West Papua free from colonial power.”

For West Papuan refugees who fled to Papua New Guinea in the 1970s, there is still hope they will one day be able to return.

“We will stay in PNG for the rest of our life, or if West Papua independence is decided, we go back to our home,” said Olof Wayabgkau, who fled Jayapura in 1975.

SBS News contacted the Indonesian embassies in Sydney and Canberra but did not receive a response.

  • Four speakers from West Papua and Indonesia will take part in a New Zealand webinar with the theme “#PapuanLivesMatter” hosted by West Papua Auckland Action on Sunday, November 1, 4pm. The speakers taking part are lawyer Veronica Koman, Papuan musician and activist Ronnie Kareni, KNPB international spokesperson Victor Yeimo and Papuan human rights worker Rosa Moiwend.
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