JAKARTA/WAMENA, Sep 24, 2019, CNA. At least 20 people were killed and dozens more injured as fresh unrest erupted in Indonesia’s restive Papua region on Monday (Sep 23), with some victims burned to death in buildings set ablaze by protesters, authorities said, reported the Channel News Asia.
“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 territory.
There was “chaos” in Wamena, which is the biggest town in the highland area of Papua, state news agency Antara quoted district police chief Toni Ananda as saying.
Authorities said 16 people died in the city where hundreds demonstrated and burned down a government office and other buildings earlier in the day.
The rally was allegedly triggered by racist slurs directed at students by a teacher in Wamena, reported Indonesian portal Kompas.com.
Police have disputed the account, calling it a “hoax”.
Gunshots were heard during a telephone call with its correspondent in the town, the website added.
Wamena’s airport was shut on Monday with around 20 flights cancelled due to the unrest, local media reported, citing an airport official.
Among the victims, 13 were non-Papuans and three were Papuans, Daryanto said, adding that a soldier and three civilians also died in provincial capital Jayapura, where security forces and stone-throwing protesters clashed Monday.
The soldier was stabbed to death, the military said.
It was not immediately clear how the civilians in Jayapura died.
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told Reuters the situation “is being handled by police and the military so that this does not spread wider”, and he was awaiting reports from regional officers.
“Security forces have also taken steps to prevent the riots from spreading,” he said.
Resource-rich Papua – which is home to the world’s biggest gold mine and its second-biggest copper mine Grasberg – was a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial UN backed referendum in 1969.
Since then, the region has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.
After the August protests began, Indonesia has sent almost 6,000 additional military and police personnel to the region, and authorities for a time blocked Internet access to prevent use of social media.
Police have rounded up dozens of people for damaging public property in the protests, with several named as treason suspects over a demand for an independence referendum that authorities have ruled out.