Racist taunts open deep wounds in Papua protests

Nesma seif write

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.

Papua has always had an uneasy status in Indonesia

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.

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