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West Papuan nationalists expected to protest on Indonesian “independence day”


West Papuan nationalists expected to protest on Indonesian “independence day”

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Photo: Green Left Weekly

West Papuan nationalists in Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua provinces will today mark their unilaterally recognised independence day with demonstrations.

More than 60 people have been killed in protests since August. The renewed violence is the latest in the decades-long low-level conflict in Indonesia’s eastern border region. Further violence is likely today if security forces crack down on the expected raising of the outlawed “Morning Star” flag.

President Joko Widodo has taken a more conciliatory approach than his predecessors by releasing political prisoners, increasing infrastructure investment and visiting the region more times than any other president. Widodo’s recent statement signalling a willingness to meet with separatist leaders has created an opportunity for dialogue, and his final term of office could give him more leeway to resist opposition from Indonesian nationalists.

However, optimism is tempered by the lack of clarity around what concessions, if any, Widodo is willing to make. His strategy thus far has focused on economic development to win hearts and minds, but this has largely failed. All signs point to the president’s favouring further infrastructure projects and mulling the creation of a new province carved out of southern Papua rather than granting greater autonomy or addressing racial grievances, making unrest likely to continue.

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