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24 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 23 August, 2019 09:28:54 PM
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PAPUA PROTESTS

Racist taunts open deep wounds

BBC, London
Racist taunts open deep wounds
Papuan demonstrators are calling for Indonesian authorities to be held accountable for human rights violations. BBC Photo

A catalogue of racist taunts aimed at a group of students have sparked violent protests in Indonesia's eastern region of Papua.

The area's largest protests in years saw numerous buildings torched - including a jail and a market - and resulted in the Indonesian government deploying thousands of additional security officers to an area which is already the country's most heavily militarised.

The internet has also been shut down to "restore security", according to the Indonesian government.

But while the taunts may have been the spark, it was years of underlying resentment which provided the fuel.

The Indonesian government says Papua, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua, is an integral part of Indonesia and this has been recognised by the United Nations.

However, many who live in the region do not share this belief.

The former Dutch colony initially declared independence in 1961 and its annexation by Indonesia in 1969 was controversial.

And while a referendum was held and overseen by the United Nations, only about 1,000 people were allowed to vote, meaning many Papuans considered the result invalid.

As a result, a low-level separatist movement, fighting for independence, continues to this day. The Indonesian military, meanwhile, is accused of gross human rights abuses in their attempt to suppress any form of dissent in the province.

Resentment towards central government is further fuelled by the fact that, while Papua is rich in resources, including the world's biggest gold mine, it remains one of the poorest regions in the country. In February last year, a measles and malnutrition crisis killed at least 72 people, mostly children.

The groundswell of anger that has fuelled the latest demonstrators was sparked by an incident in the Javanese city of Surabaya at the weekend.

After accusing Papuan university students of damaging an Indonesian flag during Independence Day celebrations, nationalist groups surrounded their boarding house and goaded them with racist taunts, calling them "monkeys", "pigs" and "dogs".

Police in riot gear then stormed the dormitory to force the students out. Authorities said the students were briefly questioned before being set free.

This incident, and the protests which followed, exposed simmering fault lines and deep-seated racism within Indonesia, stemming from the fact people indigenous to Papua are Melanesian, ethnically distinct from most of the rest of the country and more closely linked to the neighbouring people of Papua New Guinea.

The exiled West Papua leader, Benny Wenda, told the BBC the treatment of the Papuan students was "just one example of what we have experienced daily for nearly 60 years".

Wenda recalled how, on his first day of high school, an Indonesian girl spat in his face.

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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