Indonesian troops opened fire in West Papua and killed five civilians during disturbances on Monday, as Indonesia faces growing pressure over its occupation of the region.
The exact events that led to the deaths are difficult to trace, especially given media censorship and inconsistent reporting inside West Papua. It has been established that the shootings occurred in Paniai, where locals gathered to demonstrate at Karel Gobay Square. At least five people have been reported dead, with at least 12 wounded.
The cause of the protests is unclear. Local media quoted community leaders claiming that the unrest was provoked by the beating of a 12-year-old boy on Sunday night, while military spokesperson Rikas Hidayatullah claimed it was a political demonstration against the electoral commission.
The crowd “ran amok,” according to Hidayatullah, who added that the incident happened after the “police asked the military to help them.”
Activists for West Papuan independence began circulating a number of horrific pictures, that they claimed were taken at the scene of the shootings, on blogs and Twitter.
Indonesia occupied West Papua in 1963, following a colonial Dutch government. Ever since, the national Morning Star flag of West Papua has been banned and independence supporters have been suppressed. An estimated 100,000 West Papuans have died as a result of the occupation.
Indonesia argues it secured the province fairly after a vacuum of internal leadership left the country completely ungoverned with no central authority. The UN did grant Indonesia control of West Papua in 1963, on the condition that a plebiscite on self-determination was held within six years.
In 1969, Indonesia organized a vote that surveyed 1,026 handpicked West Papuans. They voted to join Indonesia, and the other 800,000 West Papuans — who were considered “too primitive” and not consulted — were forced to go along with it.
News broke of Monday’s tragic shooting in Paniai just as West Papuan independence activist organizations announced they had unified after negotiations in Vanuatu. The new body, called the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, has been set up with the ambition of being recognized by the Melanesian Spearhead Group, an intergovernmental organization that advances the interests of the Melanesian peoples of the Pacific.