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Indonesian forces open fire as Papuans raise outlawed flag

Timika flag rally

Police arrest a man after dispersing hundreds of Papuans attending a pro-independence Morning Star flag-raising ceremony in Timika, Papua province, on December 1, 2011. Photo: Muhammad Yamin / Photoblog

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By a special correspondent in Timika

Security forces opened fire at a pro-independence flag-raising ceremony in the Indonesian-ruled West Papua, marking the 50th anniversary of the region’s claim to independence.

About 500 protesters had watched a traditional dance and started cheering and running in a large circle when the region’s Morning Star flag was raised on a bamboo pole in the centre at the ceremony on Thursday, according to an Agence France-Presse  correspondent at the scene.

Around 120 police and soldiers, along with a military truck, stormed the crowd and opened fire after the main flag was raised.

Morning Star flag, Timika

Papuan demonstrators erupt in a short lived celebration as they raise the banned Morning Star flag on a bamboo pole in Timika in Indonesaian-ruled Papua province. Indonesian police and troops opened fire to break up the protest. Photo: Tjahjono Eranius / Photoblog

Police kicked and punched protesters on the ground, and detained three of them. Papuan youth activist leader Markus Haluk told AFP that five people had been shot.

“At the ceremony in Timika, police and military opened fire, shooting into the air as well as at the crowd. Five people were shot, four of whom are being treated at a hospital and one was taken away in a police car,” Haluk said.

But Mimika district deputy police chief Mada Indra Laksanta denied the shootings, saying police merely fired warning shots into the air.

“No protesters were shot, we didn’t shoot into the crowd. They were carrying sharp weapons and rocks,” Laksanta told AFP.

Two protesters ‘fell’
“Two protesters fell into the ditch as they were fleeing and suffered abrasions. They were not shot, they only had abrasions,” he said.

“Three police were wounded, their faces and heads were hit with rocks.”

Flag-raising ceremonies were held in a number of towns across Papua on Thursday, and others took place in the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

In the Papua provincial capital of Jayapura, 15 people had shot two policemen with bows and arrows, critically injuring one, police spokesman Wachyono told AFP.

“Acting on a tip-off, the policemen were checking if anyone there had raised the Morning Star flag but they were attacked,” he said.

“A policeman is critically injured and is being treated at a hospital.”

Ceremony at graveside
In the nearby town Sentani, 3000 people gathered at the grave of independence leader Theys Eluay to commemorate the day with songs, dancing and speeches.

On December 1, 1961, Papuans first raised the Morning Star flag and sang a new national anthem after being granted freedom from more than 130 years of Dutch colonial rule.

A year later, Indonesia invaded Papua and took over the region with a self-determination referendum in 1969, which was widely seen as rigged.

Papuans, mostly ethnic Melanesians, have rejected the region’s status as one within Indonesia and poorly armed separatist groups have fought a low- level insurgency.

Displaying separatist symbols such as the Morning Star is considered an act of treason in Indonesia under the criminal code and several perpetrators are serving 20-year jail terms for the offence.

Some are serving life sentences, the maximum penalty under the criminal code for anyone “with an intention to bring the territory of the state … under foreign domination”.

In late October, armed security forces stormed a pro-independence assembly when a group of Papuan leaders declared the region’s independence and raised the Morning Star flag, killing at least three civilians.

Morning Star flag-raising ceremony in Auckland