MANOKWARI • Indonesia's Papua was hit by fresh unrest yesterday as more than 1,000 security personnel were sent to the restive region after violent protests that saw buildings torched and street battles between police and demonstrators.
Jakarta has called for calm in its easternmost territory - where an insurgency against Indonesian rule has simmered for decades - following riots triggered by the detention of dozens of Papuan students over the weekend.
Yesterday, about 1,000 people protested in the streets of Timika city, where an AFP reporter saw protesters throw rocks at police and try to rip down a fence surrounding the Parliament building.
The crowd began to disperse as riot police fired warning shots in the air.
There were also protests in the town of Fakfak on the western edge of the island, which is divided between the Indonesian province of West Papua and the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.
The latest protests come after several cities in resource-rich Papua were brought to a standstill this week, including in Manokwari where businesses and the local Parliament building were set ablaze by angry demonstrators.
Police said on Tuesday they were hunting for more than 250 inmates who had escaped from a prison in Sorong city that was set ablaze during the riots.
Several officers were injured in the riots, police said. There are unconfirmed reports of wounded protesters but no deaths were reported.
Some 1,200 extra police personnel and troops have been deployed to Manokwari and Sorong from other parts of the South-east Asian country, according to the government and the Papuan authorities.
WE ARE FAMILY
We are brothers and sisters sharing the same nation and homeland. Let us not let ourselves be pitted against each other and become enemies.
EAST JAVA GOVERNOR KHOFIFAH INDAR PARAWANSA
National police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said yesterday that security personnel were not equipped with live bullets and that the situation was "generally under control".
He added: "It is standard that if things escalate, (the authorities) will deploy additional personnel."
The government said it had moved to slow down Internet connections in parts of Papua to stop the spread of online hoaxes that could set off more demonstrations.
Anger boiled over following reports that the authorities fired tear gas and detained some 43 Papuan university students in the country's second-biggest city, Surabaya, on 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 briefly questioned and set free.
A different group of protesters shouted racial slurs at the students.
Indonesian leader Joko Widodo was expected to visit the region next week. Mr Joko had on Monday called on all Papuans to stay calm and forgive fellow citizens who had attacked the students in Surabaya.
"It is better to forgive and be patient," he said, addressing the Papuans in their local dialect.
Meanwhile, regional leaders and authorities scrambled to defuse tensions, assuring Papuans living in their respective provinces of their safety.
East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa on Monday apologised on behalf of the people of her province and held a gathering with Papuans living in Surabaya at the residence of East Java police chief Luki Hermawan.
"We are brothers and sisters sharing the same nation and homeland. Let us not let ourselves be pitted against each other and become enemies," Ms Khofifah wrote in her Instagram account on Tuesday.
Papua has been the scene of a decades-old rebel insurgency against Indonesian rule, while security forces have been accused of committing widespread rights abuses against its ethnic Melanesian population.
It is also home to the world's largest gold mine, but many Papuans say they have not shared in the region's vast mineral wealth.