JAKARTA, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Thousands of protesters marched for independence in Indonesia’s Papua region Tuesday despite threats of violence, police and witnesses said.
Demonstrations took place in several cities and towns in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, demanding a referendum on independence and reversal of a 1969 vote that gave Indonesia control of the former Dutch colony, the western half of New Guinea.
“For 40 years, the Indonesian government has never fairly applied the law or upheld human rights,” Viktor Kogoya of the West Papua National Committee told The New York Times in Jakarta. “The Papuan people have never had justice.”
The protests were largely peaceful, although activists accused the authorities of stirring fear with anonymous text messages warning of a “massacre.”
At least 17 people died in tribal fighting over the weekend, and on Monday morning unidentified attackers blocked traffic outside the provincial capital of Jayapura and killed four people.
The West Papua National Committee says security forces are provoking or staging the violence to defeat the protests, the Times said.
A conference is being held in Britain to promote Papuan independence through legal challenges to Indonesian rule.