Christians Fear Further Violence in Irian Jaya

Friday, November 30, 2001

Special to Compass Direct
JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya, November 30 (Compass) -- A smouldering civil unrest that has troubled the eastern Indonesian province of Irian Jaya for years threatens once again to harm Christians and others caught in the war between a growing independence movement and the Jakarta government.

"Since the massacre of Indonesians and many Christians last month, we are anticipating December 1 with anxiety," said the Rev. Bangun Manurung, pastor of the Bethel Church of Indonesia, in Jayapura, the main city of Irian Jaya. Manurung is one of many non-Papuans who live in Irian Jaya. A controversial transmigration program began by the Jakarta government in the 1970s has resettled thousands of residents of other Indonesian islands in Irian Jaya.

December 1 is the date Papuans celebrate the independence of their province, Irian Jaya - a bitter celebration to many because West Papua, as they call it, is still part of Indonesia.

Indonesia's de facto annexation of the western side of the island of Papua in the early 1960s (the eastern side is the independent Papua-New Guinea) and the repression that followed encouraged the formation and activities of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). One of the less violent OPM activities is to defy the Indonesian authorities by flying the West Papuan flag.

Irian Jaya is predominantly Christian, which attracts many Indonesian Christians from other parts of the country. Non-Papuans fear violent activity because they are often targeted when conflicts occur as the OPM challenges the Indonesian government's sovereignty.

Their fears were realised on October 6 when dozens were killed and injured in reprisal violence in Wamena, a town in the Baliem Valley, Irian Jaya's central highlands.

"It all started when the Wamena police asked the people not to fly the Papuan flag of independence, in accordance with the ruling of President Abdurrahman Wahid," Manurung said.

"Somehow violence was avoided that morning, but later on, in the afternoon, thousands of Papuans from the villages surrounding Wamena descended on the town and attacked non-Papuans, killing, maiming and burning property," said Manurung.

"They used axes and bows and arrows, and they set alight people's houses or buildings, trapping the people inside. Forty people were killed, and hundreds wounded, many of them Christians. One pastor was killed, burnt alive in a flaming building."

It seems that no group was spared. When Papuans from the coastal areas tried to help the non-Papua Indonesians, they were attacked by highland Papuans. Muslims were also among those killed and injured.

"I can say that it is not safe for non-Papuans to be in Irian Jaya at the moment," said Manurung. "Even the teachers and nurses here want to leave. Many people are sending their families back to Sumatra, Sulawesi or Java. The boats and planes are fully booked well into next year."

He added, "Please ask the Christians to pray for us at this time. It is likely that the OPM will continue to challenge the Indonesian government, particularly during December, and try to fly the Morning Star as often as possible."