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Pacific News Minute: Dozens Arrested, At Least Ten Dead as Political Unrest Continue in West Papua

AP Photo/Beawiharta
Local market is seen burning during a protest in Fakfak, Papua province, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Indonesia has deployed over 1,000 security personnel to the restive province of West Papua amid spreading violent protests.

At least ten people are reported dead and dozens arrested as political unrest continues in West Papua. Indonesia blames pro-independence groups for the violence, and has banned further protests.

What began as anti-racism protests have evolved into the largest and most persistent series of pro-independence demonstrations in many years. Protests in some West Papuan cities have turned violent.

Last week, for example, police reported four people killed in the provincial capital of Jayapura. Demonstrators set fire to the Papuan People’s Assembly complex and hoisted the banned Morning Star flag atop the governor’s office.

The violence in the cities has reportedly been abetted by armed vigilante groups waving the Indonesian flag who have clashed with indigenous protesters. Accurate accounts have been difficult to come by; journalists are only rarely allowed to visit the area and authorities shut down the internet two weeks ago in what was described as an effort to suppress “fake news.”

Reports from remote areas are even more difficult to confirm. As many as six, but at least three, people were killed in Deiyai Regency when police allegedly opened fire on protesters. More recently, five Indonesian goldminers were killed in the central highlands by residents wielding machetes and bows and arrows.

After several postponements, Indonesia’s Prime Minister, Joko Widodo, is now expected in West Papua later this week, but UN Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet says her office has been unable to arrange a visit that was promised in principle by Indonesia last January.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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