Deaths reported in fresh rioting in Indonesia’s Papua region

Victor Mambor and Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Jayapura, Indonesia and Jakarta
Deaths reported in fresh rioting in Indonesia’s Papua region Indonesian police (foreground) disperse protesters gathering for a demonstration against the Indonesian government’s plan to develop new administrative areas within Papua province, in Timika on April 1, 2022.
Sevianto Pakiding/AFP

Updated at 10:40 a.m. ET on 2023-02-24

At least 10 people were killed and nearly two dozen others injured after security forces opened fire to quell rioting that broke out in Indonesia’s volatile Papua region amid rumors about a child having been kidnapped, police and the military said Friday.

Soldiers and police were forced to open fire after a crowd armed with arrows and rocks attacked them during the riot on Thursday in Sinakma, a district in the Papua Highlands province, police spokesman Benny Adi Prabowo said.

“The police will take strong action against anyone responsible for the riot that has claimed casualties,” Benny said in a statement.

“The situation is gradually returning to normal and under control,” he said.

Benny said two people of the 10 people who died had arrow and stabbing injuries.

Tensions have been high in Papua since Indonesia moved last year to further divide the region into more administrative units by creating three new provinces, including Papua Highlands. 

Separatist rebels have also become more aggressive in carrying out attacks lately in the deeply impoverished and underdeveloped region. Earlier this month, rebels kidnapped a pilot from New Zealand after setting his commercial aviation plane on fire at a local tarmac. His current whereabouts are unknown. 

The police spokesman said the latest unrest started around 12:30 p.m. Thursday after residents stopped a vendor’s truck in Sinakma, suspecting that the truck’s occupants were kidnappers of a child.

Police officers arrived on site to handle the case and took the suspects to the police station, but people began protesting and attacking them, Benny said.

The military was called in to assist as the situation escalated and protesters began burning down shops and homes, he said.

“Our personnel are on stand-by to prevent further escalation,” Benny said.

Meanwhile, local military commander Lt. Col Arhenius Murib said soldiers were trying to calm the crowds and assist with mediation to stop the rioting.

“We have communicated and coordinated with all parties to prevent the riots from spreading, restore peace, and prevent casualties,” he told BenarNews.

A Papua human rights activist, Theo Hesegem, expressed concern about the situation and called for a peaceful resolution to the violence.

“In my opinion, this is very inhumane. When will the violence end? The humanitarian crisis continues to occur, and this is a very brutal act,” he told BenarNews.

“Based on our observation, in the emergency room at the Jawaijaya General Hospital the patients were being treated for gunshot wounds,” he said.

Papua police chief Mathius Fakhiri said he had ordered an investigation into the conduct of officers in handling the riot.

“I have asked the head of the internal affairs division to conduct a thorough evaluation of the handling [of the riot] on the ground,” Fakhiri told reporters.

“We don’t want things like that to happen again in the future,” he said.   

The violence was the deadliest in the province since its establishment in November 2022. In December, one person died and eight others were injured when police fired on rioting villagers in a local regency.

At the time, villagers who were armed with arrows and crude weapons attacked a police station in Tolikara regency, after two apparently drunk people allegedly assaulted an officer, police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said. Three civilians and five officers were injured.

The Papua region, located in Indonesia’s far east, is home to a decades-old insurgency that has heated up in recent years.  

The region, in the western half of New Guinea island, is notorious for human rights abuses committed by members of the Indonesian police and security forces. Armed separatist Papuan rebels have also been accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua – like Indonesia, a former Dutch colony – and annexed the region.

Six years later, only about 1,000 people voted in the U.N.-sponsored referendum, called a sham by locals and activists. The U.N. accepted the vote, essentially endorsing Jakarta’s rule.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.