Hundreds of Papuans held rallies across at least eight cities in Indonesia on Tuesday to renew calls for independence, as a separatist group declared it had established a provisional government in exile.
The demonstrations marked the anniversary of West Papua declaring independence from Dutch rule in 1961, which was followed by a contentious U.N.-sanctioned referendum in 1969 that brought Papua under Indonesian control.
Among more than 100 students who marched in the capital Jakarta, Papuan Roland Levy said the date remained significant decades on.
“My goal in joining the rally today is to commemorate 59 years of the proclamation of independence of the West Papuan nation that was annexed by Indonesia,” he told Reuters, as demonstrators waved banners calling for the right to self-determination.
Some Papuans regard the 1969 plebiscite as unfair and say intimidation was used to influence the outcome, which Jakarta has rejected.
The protests coincided with a declaration from the United Liberation Movement for West Papua that a provisional “government-in-waiting” had been formed, led by exiled independence figure, Benny Wenda.
Britain-based Wenda said the group would push for independence and no longer “bow down to Jakarta’s illegal martial rule”.
Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry, paid little heed to what he described as “Mr. Wenda’s self-proclaimed status”.
“The status of Papua as part of Indonesia, the successor state of the Netherlands (Dutch) East Indies, is final,” he said, referring to the former colonial power.
He said the integration process was supervised by the United Nations and included the adoption of a resolution.
Papua has been plagued by separatist conflict for decades and access for foreign journalists is often restricted.
In the past year there have been sporadic and deadly attacks involving security forces and indigenous Papuans, including the killing of several Papuan minors and a pastor in recent months.
The United Nations human rights body on Monday expressed concern over reports of extrajudicial killings and escalating violence in the region.
(This story corrects spelling of spokesman’s name in paragraph 8 to Faizasyah, not Faisyah)