Indonesia's leaders scramble for dialogue with Papuans after riots break out

In a photo taken on Aug 19, 2019, people display banners that read "Stop intimidation and racism towards indigenous Papuans" during a protest in Manokwari, Papua province, Indonesia.
In a photo taken on Aug 19, 2019, people display banners that read "Stop intimidation and racism towards indigenous Papuans" during a protest in Manokwari, Papua province, Indonesia.PHOTO: AP

JAKARTA/MALANG (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia's regional leaders and authorities have scrambled to defuse tensions stemming from the recent racial abuse against Papuan students, which has triggered widespread protests in Papua and West Papua.

After apologising on behalf of the people of her province - where the worst incident took place - East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa held a gathering with Papuans living in Surabaya at the residence of East Java police chief Luki Hermawan on Monday evening (Aug 19).

During the event, Ms Khofifah, alongside deputy governor Emil Dardak, joined the Papuans who participated in the meeting to sing Papuan folk songs, namely "Tanah Papua" (Land of Papua) and "Aku Papua" (I am Papua), news agency Antara reported.

In her Instagram account, Ms Khofifah posted photos of her meeting with the Papuans in a post in which she again conveyed her apology to the Papuans who were hurt by racially charged statements by "individuals" living in the province, as she called on the people of Indonesia to respect each other.

"We are brothers and sisters sharing the same nation and homeland. Let us not let ourselves be pitted against each other and become enemies," Ms Khofifah wrote in her account @khofifah.ip on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Malang Mayor Sutiaji invited Papuan students living in the city for lunch on Tuesday, during which he also assured the safety of the students and rebuffed circulating information that suggested there would be raids and Papuan students would be forced to leave the city.

"We have to set this straight: There is no discrimination in our policy (against Papuans), because everyone is equal and Papuans... are all Indonesian citizens," he said.

Large protests broke out in Papua's capital of Jayapura as well as the West Papua cities of Manokwari and Sorong on Monday morning as people expressed their anger over the racial abuse of Papuan students staying in a dormitory in Surabaya on Sunday.

The Papuan students were subjected to physical and verbal attacks by a number of security personnel and members of mass organisations, who shouted words such as "monkeys" and "pigs" against the Papuans after accusing them of refusing to celebrate Indonesia's Independence Day over the weekend.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is set to visit Papua and West Papua.

Presidential staff member Lenis Kogoya said on Tuesday that the visit would be made sometime next week.

"We will invite the President to Papua to talk with the locals there," he said as quoted by kompas.com.

Mr Joko, who has visited the easternmost part of the country more times than any previous president, had called on all Papuans to stay calm and forgive fellow citizens who had launched physical and verbal attacks on Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java.

 
 

"Fellow citizens, pace (brothers), mace (sisters) and mama-mama (mothers) in Papua and West Papua, I know that there are some grievances. As fellow citizens, it is important to forgive each other," Mr Joko said at Merdeka Palace on Monday, addressing the Papuans in the local dialect. "It is better to forgive and be patient."

Other regional leaders, including South Sulawesi Governor Nurdin Abdullah and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, have also responded to the situation, asserting that they would ensure the security of Papuans, including university students, in their respective provinces.

Mr Nurdin immediately visited a Papuan student dormitory in Makassar after reports emerged that an unidentified group had attacked the building on Monday evening, hours after the protests broke out in Papua and West Papua.

The attack broke several windows on the first floor of the dormitory.

After meeting Papuan students, Mr Nurdin said he deplored the incident and promised to undo the damage, while security personnel would take charge of securing the building to prevent further incidents.

Mr Nurdin apologised for the incident, which affected Papuan students in the dormitory. "(Please) forgive all of us," he said.

In the capital, Cengkareng police in West Jakarta also met dozens of Papuan students studying at the PLN Engineering University Academy (STT) and had a meal together at a restaurant in the area on Monday.

During the meeting, Cengkareng police chief H Khoiri reminded security personnel and kamtibmas (resident security officers) to cooperate with students from Papua to keep the peace.

In a separate event, Kramat Jati Police visited a Papuan student dormitory in Batuampar in Kramat Jati, East Jakarta.

"We advised students from Papua in Kramat Jati not to be provoked by the recent situation," Kramat Jati Police chief Nurdin A Rahman said.

Protests in Sorong continued on Tuesday, with demonstrators reportedly blocking a number of roads and staging a rally in front of the Sorong mayoral office.