Local priest Santon Tekege said the chaos erupted yesterday after several thousand people rallied in the remote district of Deiyai, following riots across the region last week when buildings were torched and street battles broke out between police and protesters.
In Deiyai, authorities fired tear gas to disperse yesterday’s demonstration, sparking an angry response that saw a group of protesters attack a soldier, Santon added.The military then opened fire on the crowd, according to Santon, who said he was at the demonstration.“Six of them died,” he said, adding that several others were injured.
A report on local news website Suarapapua.com earlier yesterday also said six demonstrators were gunned down, though the deaths could not be independently verified.Indonesia’s military – long accused of committing rights abuses against Papuans during a decades-long separatist insurgency – did not confirm the civilian deaths, but said a soldier was killed and several more injured by Papuans armed with machetes and bows and arrows.About 150 protesters descended on Deiyai’s government office yesterday, demanding that the district head sign an agreement to hold a referendum on Papuan independence, said national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo.
“The report about civilian deaths is unconfirmed,” he added.
Conflicting accounts are common in Papua, a resource-rich but impoverished island that shares a border with Papua New Guinea.
The recent riots appear to have been triggered by the arrest this month of dozens of Papuan students in Java, who were also pelted with racist abuse.
Police in riot gear stormed a dormitory in Surabaya to force out students accused of destroying an Indonesian flag, as a group of protesters shouted racial slurs at them.
Last week, the government moved to shut down Internet services in the region, saying it was trying to stop a stream of offensive and racist online posts that it feared would spark more violent protests.
Critics slammed the move as a threat to free speech and it has made verifying information difficult. — AFP