More than 5,000 Papuans rallied outside the regional representative council in Jayapura on Thursday to demand a referendum on autonomy in the latest of a series of protests.
“Don’t ignore the demand for a referendum. The government should understand the reasons why Papuans are always asking for a referendum,” Fajar Timur School of Philosophy head Neles Tebay told The Jakarta Post in Jayapura.
Thursday’s rally, led by the Papua Democracy Forum, followed a rally on June 17, when demonstrators and the Papua People’s Council (MRP) demanded the revocation of Papua’s special autonomy status, which was previously granted by the central government.
Neles said the revocation request was a “symbolic protest” and represented the frustration of native Papuans.
“We have gone through seven years of special autonomy, but the people have not enjoyed any changes. There has been no change either with or without special autonomy,” Neles said.
“It is better to return it,” he added.
“The objection is the same as Papuans saying that ‘we were not protected, we are not empowered and no one is on our side’,” said Neles.
Papuans wish to hold a dialogue, he said. If President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wishes to speak with Papuans, then pressing issues, such as the demand for a referendum, will ease because every Papuan will focus on the dialog, he added.
Demonstrations also took place in several cities in Papua, such as Timika and Manokwari.
In Timika, Mimika regency, hundreds of people from the West Papua National Committee on Thursday held a rally at the local legislative office and demanded the return of special autonomy to the central government.
The committee said special autonomy in Papua had failed to bring prosperity to Papuans.
Mimika Police chief adj. Sr. Comr. Muhammad Sagi said before Thursday’s rally that the event coordinator must be present and be would be responsible for the demonstration.
The rally will be illegal if the person who originally asked for a police permit was not present, he said. Police were ready to disperse the crowd at outside the Mimika legislative office, he added
Mimika police’s Mobile Brigade used Baracuda armored cars to secure the police chief’s office when Sagi and rally coordinator Romario Yatipai met.
Mimika legislative vice council speaker Karel Dwijangge said protesters at the legislative office should maintain calm and refrain from anarchy.
“The Mimika legislature has not held a meeting on the failure of special autonomy in Papua. It has yet to agree to the return of special autonomy because its 25 councilors have not held a meeting on the issue,” Karel told the crowd.