JAKARTA • At least 20 people were killed and dozens more injured as fresh unrest erupted in Indonesia's restive Papua region yesterday, with some victims burned to death in buildings set ablaze by protesters, the authorities said.
"Most of them died in a fire," said Papua military spokesman Eko Daryanto. "The death toll could go up because many were trapped in burning kiosks," he added.
Papua, on the western half of New Guinea island, has been gripped by weeks of violent protests fuelled by anger over racism, as well as fresh calls for self-rule in the impoverished area.
Yesterday, 16 people died in Wamena city where hundreds demonstrated and burned down a government office and other buildings earlier in the day, the authorities said.
Among the victims, 13 were non-Papuans and three were Papuans, Mr Daryanto said, adding that a soldier and three civilians also died in Papua's provincial capital Jayapura, where security forces and stone-throwing protesters clashed yesterday.
The soldier was stabbed to death, the military said.
It was not immediately clear how the civilians in Jayapura died.
About 300 people were arrested in connection with yesterday's protests, Mr Daryanto said, adding that about 65 people had been injured.
The clashes in Papua had quietened down recently, but flared up again as hundreds took to the streets - and houses and stores went up in flames.
Yesterday's protests in Wamena - mostly involving high schoolers - were reportedly sparked by racist comments made by a teacher, but police have disputed that account as a "hoax".
Indonesia routinely blames separatists for violence in Papua, its easternmost territory, and conflicting accounts are common.
TRAPPED IN BURNING KIOSKS
Most of them died in a fire. The death toll could go up because many were trapped in burning kiosks.
PAPUA MILITARY SPOKESMAN EKO DARYANTO. Some of the victims were burned to death in buildings set ablaze by protesters, the authorities said.
Demonstrations broke out across the region and in other parts of the South-east Asian archipelago after dozens of Papuan students, who were allegedly racially abused, were hit with tear gas and arrested in mid-August in Indonesia's second-biggest city, Surabaya.
A low-level separatist insurgency has simmered for decades in Papua, a former Dutch colony, after Jakarta took over the mineral-rich region in the 1960s.
The airport in Wamena was shut yesterday with some 20 flights cancelled due to the unrest, local media reported, citing an airport official.
Indonesia has sent thousands of security personnel to Papua to quell the recent unrest, and dozens were arrested for instigating the earlier riots. At least five demonstrators and a soldier were killed in Papua province, but activists say the civilian death toll is higher.
Last week, the military said a toddler and teenager were among three people killed in a gunfight between security forces and independence-seeking rebels.