Indonesia's Papua hit by fresh unrest as troops deployed

In a photo taken on Aug 20, 2019, Indonesian soldiers stand as they arrive at Domine Eduard Osok Airport to be deployed to Sorong and Manokwari following the protests in Sorong, West Papua in Indonesia.
In a photo taken on Aug 20, 2019, Indonesian soldiers stand as they arrive at Domine Eduard Osok Airport to be deployed to Sorong and Manokwari following the protests in Sorong, West Papua in Indonesia.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANOKWARI, INDONESIA (AFP) - Indonesia's Papua was hit by fresh unrest on Wednesday (Aug 21) 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 at the weekend.

On Wednesday, about 1,000 people protested in the streets of Timika city, where an AFP reporter saw demonstrators throw rocks at police and try to rip down a fence surrounding the local parliament building.

The crowd began to disperse as riot police fired warning shots in the air.

There were also demonstrations 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 that 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, and there are unconfirmed reports of wounded demonstrators. No deaths have been reported.

Some 1,200 extra police and troops have been deployed to Manokwari and Sorong from other parts of the South-east Asian nation, according to the government and Papuan authorities.

 
 

National police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said on Wednesday that security personnel were not equipped with live bullets, and that the situation was "generally under control".

"It is standard that if things escalate (the authorities) will deploy additional personnel," he added.

The government has 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.

Indonesian leader Joko Widodo was expected to visit the region next week.

Anger boiled over at reports that the authorities tear-gassed and detained some 43 Papuan university students in the country'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 briefly questioned and set free.

A different group of protesters shouted racial slurs at the students.

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've not shared in the region's vast mineral wealth.