At least 20 people were killed and dozens injured on Monday when fresh violence broke out in two locations in Indonesia’s Papua province, officials said, as security forces dealt with hundreds of people revolting against Jakarta’s rule.
Chaos erupted when an angry mob set fire to cars and torched government buildings in Wamena, the largest town in Indonesian westernmost highlands, provincial military spokesman Eko Daryanto said.
At least 16 civilians were killed and 65 others injured by the time authorities announced that the rioting had been brought under control, officials said.
“Some of those killed were people trapped in burning buildings,” Eko told BenarNews. A few of the fatalities were migrants from outside Papua, he said, without elaborating.
In Jayapura, about 250 km (156 miles) northeast of Wamena, four people were killed and 10 injured Monday in clashes between security personnel and university students, according to Aloysius Giyai, the head of the Papua health department.
“We are still looking into the causes of the deaths,” Giyai told reporters. He said a soldier was among the fatalities.
The violence came less than two weeks after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo met with Papuan leaders at the presidential palace in Jakarta and promised better treatment of Papuans, including providing jobs at state-owned enterprises. Earlier outbreaks of violence precipitated the meeting.
Papua and West Papua provinces are reeling from more than two weeks of deadly unrest sparked by perceived harsh and racist treatment of pro-independence Papuan students by security personnel on Java island in late August.
Monday’s violence in Wamena was sparked by a rumor that a teacher hurled a racist epithet against indigenous Papuans last week, authorities and residents said. They did not release details of what was said.
National police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo said officers fired tear gas and warning shots.
“We are trying to prevent the anarchic action from spreading,” Dedi told reporters. “Right now, the situation is under control.”
Meanwhile, the Communications and Information Technology Ministry said it restricted internet access in Wamena.
The government restricted data telecommunications services temporarily while allowing people in Wamena to send short text messages and make voice calls, the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
The violence in Jayapura involved students who attended universities outside their home province but who had returned home to protest the perceived racist treatment against native Papuans. They wanted to set up a post at the state-run Cenderawasih University, but were prevented from doing so by police, who accused the students of trying to provoke others, according to Dedi.
“The university’s administrators objected to the presence of the students because they were disrupting classes,” the spokesman said.
The students were moved to a different location called Expo Waena but they clashed with security forces there, police said.
A soldier died of stab wounds while three of the students were killed, possibly by rubber bullets, Dedi said.
In Jakarta, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo urged people to not believe rumors circulating on social media.
“The anarchic action [in Wamena] began with a hoax,” Jokowi said, in a statement distributed by the presidential press office.
“I appeal to the public to check and cross-check any information they see on social media and not fall for it because it could threaten stability and security,” he said.
Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta contributed to this report.