JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police detained several hundred people Monday at protests around the country demanding independence for remote West Papua.
Arrests were made in cities in Sulawesi, Java and Papua but demonstrations went ahead in at least 15 places, said Veronica Koman, a lawyer for independence activist Filep Karma.
Police in the capital Jakarta had warned organizers against protesting but relented and allowed a group of about 50 people to march down a main thoroughfare.
Monday was the 55th anniversary of the official declaration of an Indonesian military campaign to take control of West Papua from the Dutch. The Dutch colonizers of the Indonesian archipelago held onto West Papua when Indonesia became independent after World War II. It became part of Indonesia following a U.N.-supervised referendum in 1969 criticized as a sham for involving only a tiny proportion of the population and Indonesia's use of strong-arm tactics.
Supporters of West Papuan independence want a second and unfettered referendum. The Indonesian government is determined to hold onto the mineral-rich region and also fears any concessions would energize other separatist movements.
"Melanesian people are our brothers and sisters, not you, you are Asians," said Anthony Gobai, one of the protesters who addressed the Jakarta rally as dozens of police watched.
Indonesians who joined the protest knelt on their knees and apologized to West Papuans for their government's rule of a region that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia.
Indonesia maintains a tight grip on West Papua and restricts journalists from reporting there. However the independence movement appears to be increasingly well organized, with different groups now united under an umbrella organization that is seeking membership of an association of Melanesian island states.
More than 5,000 people have been arrested in pro-independence protests since April.
Koman said several people were arrested last week when they applied for demonstration permits.
She said the headquarters of the pro-independence National Committee for West Papua in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, was vandalized during a police raid on Monday.