MANOKWARI (Indonesia) • The Indonesian authorities are hunting for more than 250 inmates who escaped a Papua prison set ablaze during violent riots, officials said yesterday, as fresh protests broke out in the restive region.
The prison break on Monday came as several cities in Indonesia's easternmost territory - where an insurgency against Jakarta's rule has simmered for decades - saw rioting and protests triggered by the detention of dozens of Papuan students.
About half of the 500-inmate prison in Sorong city fled their cells when the facility was set ablaze by angry protesters, officials said.
Local Justice Ministry spokesman Marlien Lande said 258 inmates escaped and only five of them had returned by yesterday morning. Several prison workers were injured by rock-throwing prisoners.
Sorong, a city of some 220,000 people, was hit by mass protests on Monday while in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province, chaos broke out with the local Parliament building torched and nearly reduced to ashes.
While calm has mostly returned to the region, some 500 people rallied again in Sorong yesterday as police in riot gear fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.
The protests were triggered by reports that the authorities had tear-gassed and detained 43 Papuan university students in the South-east Asian nation's second-biggest city, Surabaya, last Saturday - Indonesia's independence day.
Local media and Papuan activists said police in riot gear stormed a dormitory to force out students who allegedly destroyed an Indonesian flag. Police said the students were questioned and set free.
A different group of protesters rallied against the students, shouting racial slurs about Papuans.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for calm and the government pledged to investigate the Surabaya incident.
Monday's riots marked the latest flashpoint in a decades-old rebel insurgency against Indonesian rule and allegations that its security forces committed widespread rights abuses against Papua's ethnic Melanesian population.
The former Dutch colony declared its independence in the early 1960s, but neighbouring Indonesia took control of the resource-rich region following a United Nations-sponsored referendum that was widely viewed as a sham.
Papua, which shares a border with independent Papua New Guinea, sees frequent clashes between the military and rebels.