Indonesia has deployed more than 1,000 security personnel to the province of West Papua amid spreading protests and violence.
Protests sparked by accusations that security forces had arrested and insulted Papuan students in Surabaya city, on the island of Java, turned violent on Monday, when demonstrators torched a local legislative building and set fire to cars in the West Papuan provincial capital, Manokwari.
The protests were triggered by videos circulated widely on the internet showing police, backed by soldiers, calling the Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs.”
Papua is a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a UN-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.
Since then, a low-level insurgency has plagued the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua. In recent years, some Papua students, including some who study in other provinces, have become vocal in calling for self-determination for their region.
Police stormed dormitories in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on Sunday after Papuan students staying there refused to be questioned over allegations that they had intentionally damaged the Indonesian flag in the dormitory’s yard.
East Java police spokesman, Frans Barung Mangera, said 43 students were detained but released hours later after no evidence was found that they had damaged the flag. The videos showing the behaviour of security forces sparked national outcry.
West Papua police chief, Herry Rudolf Nahak, said authorities had the situation under control after more than a thousand additional police and soldiers were deployed from other cities, including from Jakarta, Bali and Makassar.
Nahak said protesters also destroyed parts of an airport and about 250 inmates escaped in a prison break in Sorong on Monday.
He said several hundred demonstrators in Fakfak, another city in West Papua, burned a market and destroyed ATMs and shops on Wednesday.
Videos posted by residents in Fakfak and circulated online show demonstrators chanting “Freedom Papua” and holding banners demanding a referendum for independence. The crowd, including a man holding the morning star flag that is a separatist group symbol, are seen throwing rocks at police, who responded with tear gas as grey smoke billowed from a burning market.
Several thousand protesters, many wearing headbands with a separatist flag, also staged peaceful rallies on Monday in Jayapura, the capital city of Papua province.
Nahak said the situation was brought under control after the additional police and soldiers were sent in.