Thursday, October 27, 2011

Papua Turmoil

Wednesday's brutal crackdown of a pro-independence rally in Papua was indicative of the way the government treats the native population, an activist said on Friday. (AFP Photo)

Tensions are boiling over in Indonesia's restive Papua province, with the government rushing in paramilitary reinforcements following a spurt in killings blamed on separatist rebels.

Meanwhile, labour unrest, allegedly incited by the rebels, leaves the world's second-largest copper mine crippled.

Security has been raised to the highest level in Puncak Jaya, where a local police chief was shot dead this week, bringing the death toll to 12 in two weeks.

The police have asked the military to assist in security-related issues in the region.

Analysts have warned that the situation could worsen if Jakarta does not show Papuans it is serious about improving their lot. They remain one of the poorest Indonesians despite being home to the country's richest resources.

Tensions rose last month when workers in Freeport's giant gold and copper mines in Grasberg walked out on their jobs for the second time this year demanding better pay.The strike forced Freeport to declare yesterday force majeure on some sales from the mine, freeing it from contractual obligations to supply buyers.

The news buoyed copper prices on the London Metal Exchange yesterday; the benchmark contract rose as much as 3.5 percent to $7,785 a tonne, just below a one-month peak of $7,820 on Tuesday.

Besides the mine strike, there has been a spate of shootings in recent weeks, allegedly by separatists. A pro-independence congress held in Abepura town was forcefully dispersed, leaving six dead. About 300 of the 5,000 involved were arrested. Six were charged with treason.

The latest incident occurred on Monday, when two men shot a police chief in the head at the airport in Puncak Jaya, a regency in the Papua highlands.

Violence has plagued Papua since 1969, when Indonesia took over control of the region from the Dutch, ignoring Papuan demands for political sovereignty. In response to rising demands to separate, Jakarta granted the region special autonomy in 2001, with a promise that the funds allocated from the government budget would help accelerate development in Papua's restive provinces.

Indonesia began giving land concessions in Papua for mining projects soon after, assuring Papuans they would gain from such investments.

Earlier this year, the government's Supreme Audit Agency revealed that 4.12 trillion rupiah (S$589 million) of the 19.12 trillion rupiah in special autonomy funds between 2001 and last year had been misused and embezzled.

By and large, many Papuans remain impoverished and believe they have not reaped the benefits of their resource-rich province.

Papua Peace Network said a deep mistrust of Jakarta has prevailed and spurred the insurgents.

In 2005, immigrant numbers were estimated at 41 per cent of the population in Papua. It is expected to jump to 53.5 per cent by the end of this year, making indigenous Papuans a minority in their own home, according to the Papua Road Map. Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. Zubaidah Nazeer - Straits Times Indonesia

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