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Indonesia: Soldiers use live fire, make mass arrests at Papua rally
Indonesian security forces opened fire at a tense rally in Papua Wednesday and arrested as many as 300 people, according to reports from media and human rights groups.
Early reports suggest that at least one person is dead following the arrests, with more casualties expected.
The Jakarta Globe newspaper reported that Indonesian soldiers fired "warning shots" after prominent Papuan leaders read a declaration of independence during a rally in Jayapura Wednesday. A military commander told the English-language newspaper that soldiers were trying to break up a gathering of the Papuan Peoples' Congress that "crossed the line".
Some Papuans have called for independence from Indonesia, and the topic is considered highly sensitive by the government.
The Asian Human Rights Commission is reporting that one person was killed when Indonesian soldiers moved in on the gathering. In a statement, the AHRC said Melkias Kadepa, a participant at the congress, was found dead behind a military building in the city. "A full list of the dead, injured and arrested is being compiled and casualties are expected to rise significantly," the rights group said in the statement.
One witness, a local journalist, described the scene as "chaos". The journalist told the Globe that Papuan leaders declared independence from Indonesia, then began waving a banned flag, before the Indonesian military moved in.
The paper reported that dozens of people were injured after they were pistol-whipped or beaten with batons by Indonesian security forces.
The newspaper carried photos of the authorities detaining line-ups of indigenous Papuans.
Papuan leaders Forkorus Yaboisembut and Edison Waromi were both arrested, according to various reports. The AHRC said the pair are among five people who have been charged with "rebellion" by Indonesian authorities.
The group immediately condemned what they said was the Indonesian military's heavy-handed crackdown.
"This violent intervention and use of firearms is a disproportional use of force to deter the participants of this event, and violates their right to freedom of expression and political opinion," Wong Kai Shing, the executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, said in a statement.
He urged Indonesian authorities to respect the rights of all of those arrested and demanded that they "should be charged with internationally recognised crimes based on evidence or released immediately."
Photo: Asia Human Rights Commission