Indonesian troops storm independence rally
Security forces surround Papuan pro-democracy rally, dispersing crowds and arresting hundreds of participants.
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2011 14:14

Indonesian security forces have dispersed a pro-independence assembly in eastern Papua province, firing tear gas and warning shots, reports and witnesses said.

Witnesses said hundreds of people taking part in the rally were rounded up in Wednesday's crackdown.

Hundreds of paramilitary police and army troops surrounded the estimated 5,000 participants at the rally, held at an open field in Abepura outside the provincial capital Jayapura, witnesses said on Wednesday.

Witnesses said there were no immediate reports of casualties, as police dispersed the crowd which included human rights activists, tribal and religious leaders.

"They got in and started firing tear gas, trampling and beating up the crowd with their bare fists and rifle butts until they were black and blue," Paskalis Tonggap, a rights activist, said.

Another witness, Markus Haluk, a leader of a Papuan youth organisation, said that police and troops had surrounded the congress with anti-riot trucks and fired warning shots.

The participants were attending the Third Papuan Congress, a pro-democracy gathering for the remote eastern region's indigenous Melanesian majority, last held in May 2000.

Referendum demanded

For decades, ethnic Papuans have rejected the region's special autonomy within Indonesia and demanded a referendum on self-determination for Papua's estimated 3.6 million population.

Under Indonesian law, peaceful political acts such as displaying the Morning Star flag of Papuan independence are punishable by lengthy prison terms, and the region is off limits to foreign journalists and rights workers.

The independent MetroTV showed paramilitary police beating the crowd with batons and bare fists, as military vehicles surrounded the area. It said hundreds were rounded up and bundled onto military trucks as they were taken for questioning.

There was no immediate official comment about the incident.

The region's special autonomy status, introduced in 2001 after the fall of former president Suharto's military dictatorship, has seen powers including control of most tax revenue from natural resources devolved to the provincial government.

However, many Papuans say it has failed to improve their rights and activists accuse the Indonesian military of acting with brutal impunity against the Melanesian population.

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