In Indonesia, church head seeks help to mediate tensions

In Indonesia, church head seeks help to mediate tensions

An Indonesian church leader is calling on the international community to mediate human rights violations after a string of violent clashes with authorities in the Papua region last week.

The head of the Papuan Baptist Church, the Rev. Socrates Sofyan Yoma, told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific program on June 8 that only dialogue with local Papuans and international intervention will achieve peace.

“West Papuans are really, really suffering under Indonesian authorities. We need the international community to intervene, humanitarian intervention, or a United Nations peacekeeping force in West Papua,” Yoma said.

Two people were killed and 18 were wounded on June 6, after two soldiers on a motorcycle ran over a young boy. One of the dead was a soldier who was dragged from the motorcycle and stabbed by villagers. The independent West Papua Media Alerts news website reported that subsequently eight people were killed and 19 injured after soldiers opened fire when they learned of their comrade’s death.

The following day a group of soldiers destroyed and burned down villagers’ houses, a church and a school before shooting dead a civilian, injuring seven others, according to news reports.

The Papuan people have been demanding freedom of expression and the right to self-determination, but their demands have been suppressed by Indonesian authorities. In February, the World Council of Churches, concerned over human rights violations, called on the Indonesian government to demilitarise Papua.

Yoma met on June 8 with a parliamentary delegation that is investigating recent violence in the Papua region. He has said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is not doing enough to address the crisis.

“I think he only [makes] promises … [there is] never a genuine or peaceful dialogue. Indigenous Papuans and the owners of this land and country are treated inhumanely and are slaughtered like animals,” he wrote in West Papua Media Alerts on 6 April.

There were 40 violations of Christians’ religious rights in Indonesia in the first five months of this year, including the forced closure of 22 churches, according to the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum. There were 64 cases of violations of religious freedom last year, up from 47 in 2010, forum president Theophilus Bela said.

By David Crampton, Ecumenical News International

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