Indonesian police fire water cannon at pro-Papua demonstration

Papuan student activists are hit by a jet of a water from a water cannon during clashes with Indonesian police in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Dec 1, 2016.
Papuan student activists are hit by a jet of a water from a water cannon during clashes with Indonesian police in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Dec 1, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesian police on Thursday (Dec 1) fired water cannon in a bid to disperse a demonstration against Jakarta's rule over the insurgency-hit eastern region of Papua, and rounded up scores of protesters.

About 150 protesters rallied in Jakarta to mark the anniversary of Papua's 1961 declaration of independence, two years before Indonesia took control of the region from former colonial ruler the Netherlands.

Insurgents have been fighting against rule from Jakarta ever since, while the central government has sought to keep a tight grip on the resource-rich region with a heavy military and police presence.

The protesters, mostly university students from the Free Papua Organisation and the Papua Student Alliance, yelled "Free Papua", facing off against hundreds of police in riot gear.

"It's enough. Our people have been killed and detained, it's enough," said protester Cheko, who only gave one name.

Four demonstrators were detained after police accused them of displaying the pro-independence "Morning Star" flag, which is banned, and most of the other protesters were later taken away in police vans, going voluntarily without any violence breaking out.

Veronica Koman, a lawyer from Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation, said the group had a team of lawyers ready to defend the protesters.

Six years after taking control of Papua, Indonesia held a referendum that it says validated its claim to the region. But the vote was widely seen as a sham, with Jakarta hand-picking 1,026 people to vote on behalf of all Papuans.

There are regular small-scale clashes between insurgents, fighting on behalf of the ethnic Melanesian population, and security forces in Papua. Activists often accuse police and the army of committing human rights abuses in the name of anti-rebel operations.

President Joko Widodo has pledged to improve livelihoods in Papua, which is one of the least developed regions of the archipelago, and has repeatedly travelled there during his two years in office.