MAC: Mines and Communities

Eyewitness: 'They feel oppressed'

Published by MAC on 2006-03-17

Eyewitness: 'They feel oppressed'

by BBC News

17th March 2006

[Church] minister Benny Giay helped three wounded protesters to hospital Protests demanding the closure of a huge gold mine in Indonesia's Papua province have ended in violence with at least three policemen killed.

The BBC News website spoke to church minister Benny Giay, who went into the midst of the protest to negotiate with protesters.

"It all began yesterday when students blocked the road. There were about 1,000 students out on the streets.

"But today at around 9am local time I was told that the police had arrived and were about to force the students to open the road. I knew it could get ugly.

" The students resisted and two hours later there were reports of shootings.The students said they had been driven to this. They feel oppressed and colonised."

Background to Papua unrest

"Students were swarming everywhere. They burned tyres on the road. They felled coconut trees and blocked the road with the trunks.

"They were angry and they were loud. They want to see the Freeport mine operations stopped.

"They collected stones and were throwing them at the police and the mobile brigades. They shouted out:

"'Indonesia you are lying. You are robbers. You have been here for years and you have been stealing from us. Go home!'"

"The students said they had been driven to this. They feel oppressed and colonised. They say that although the Indonesian government has been trying to hide its colonial face for years, Papuans have come to realise that this is not the kind of life they want.

Church mission

"When the shooting started and the violence escalated everybody realised the situation had got out of hand. The police chief of Papua went to the Bishop of Jayapura and asked him what the Catholic Church could to do deal with the students."

Injured policemen at the Papua riots

"At least three policemen were killed in the violence on Thursday.

"I went with a group of Church leaders to the site of the violence. The students opened the road for us as we were from the Church.

"When we got to the Catholic theological college, we started to meet the casualties. One student had been shot in his left arm. The first hospital he visited couldn't treat him and the second hospital he went to was being guarded by the military, so he was hesitant to go in.

"He returned to campus and that's where I met him. We took him and two other victims who had been shot with real bullets - not just rubber bullets - to hospital.

"The bishop and the Church wrote a 'pastoral letter' to be broadcast on local television and radio calling on the police to stop searching houses and students in dormitories and also calling on students to keep quiet and to look for constructive modes of dialogue.

'A brutal history'

"But dangers to some students still exist. I'm trying to help two students to a hiding place away from Jayapura. They are scared, they don't know what reprisals could be enacted, this place has a brutal history.

"I want to see a Papua free from fear, terror and oppression. I think the Freeport mine has become a symbol of all this. It is seen to collaborate with all the systems of state and so it too is seen as an oppressive force.

"That is why it all exploded so violently.

"The way we see it, West Papuans are living inside a house called the Republic of Indonesia. We are given one room in this house and it is heavily guarded by the military and the police.

"Jakarta decides our menu, what to eat, what kind of clothes we wear. We have no freedom."

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