Three West Papuan students have reportedly been killed in their dormitories by militia groups amid growing tensions in the region, as disturbing footage emerged of Indonesian soldiers firing on peaceful demonstrators during clashes last week in which protesters say six died.
The Papuan students were attacked in a dormitory in Abepura district, Jayapura, by police-backed armed militias on Sunday. They were reportedly killed as they tried to defend themselves from vigilantes from a pro-Jakarta group calling itself Masyarakat Nusantara (Archipelago Community).
Protesters allege non-Papuan vigilante groups are being encouraged by police and military to attack Papuans during what has been more than a fortnight of protests over racial discrimination and abuse as well as calls for independence from Indonesia.
Despite an internet blackout across Papua and West Papua, footage has emerged showing soldiers firing at a crowd of demonstrators outside a government office in Deiyai last week: some of the demonstrators are standing with their hands in the air, as soldiers move in.
Protesters say six people were killed in the confrontation, and more than a dozen injured, after a police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration that had occupied the regent’s office in the middle of Deiyai city.
Victor Yeimo from the West Papua National Committee said: “They [went] inside peacefully, but suddenly, without any provocation police opened fire into the mass of demonstrators. Then … people attacked with bow and arrow.”
Photos have emerged of the body of one Indonesian soldier killed in the clash last Wednesday, his body pierced with arrows.
Papua police spokesperson Commander Anton Ampang has disputed the death count, saying one protester was killed, and that security forces opened fire only after being attacked. “Around 1,000 people armed with arrows, spears and machetes joined the protesters and started to dance the Waita dance [a traditional war dance] and threw rocks at the security forces,” Anton said in a statement.
Military personnel in a car were attacked, he said.
“The crowd shot arrows and threw rocks at security personnel in front of the Deiyai regent’s office and there were even sounds of gunfire from the direction of the crowd, leading security personnel to shoot at the attackers,” he said.
Demonstrations have broken out across Papua and West Papua, often descending into violence after being opposed by security forces and vigilante groups. Because of an internet shutdown across the remote provinces, information on clashes is emerging slowly, and is hard to verify.
Footage from Fak-Fak on the south-west coast of Papua on 21 August has also emerged, showing armed militia, some carrying Indonesian flags, clashing with Papuan protesters. Police and military personnel move among the pro-Jakarta militia, and gunshots can be heard.
Alfa Isnaeni of the nationalist Banser militia, the paramilitary wing of Indonesia’s largest independent Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, said 2,000 members were conducting “combing out” operations, seeking information on anti-Indonesia groups, but said militia members were prepared to conduct security operations if requested. “If the TNI [Indonesian military] commander or the defence minister asks us, the only thing we can say is that we’re ready,” Isnaeni said.
And in Jayapura, a long protester scaled a giant flagpole to tear down the Indonesian national flag, replacing it with the Morning Star flag on West Papua, an act that carries a potential 15-year jail term.
Police have responded to weeks of demonstrations by banning “anarchist” demonstration, and arresting dozens on Papuans accused of rioting in the region’s capital.
“Everyone is forbidden from carrying out demonstrations and conveying opinions in public that could give rise to anarchist acts, damage, and burning of public facilities,” a six-point police order said.
Indonesia earlier said it would deploy about 2,500 more police and troops to Papua, adding to about 1,200 personnel it had already sent after unrest first broke out.
The mineral-rich but under-developed and impoverished region of Papua has been the scene of a low-level insurgency against Indonesia’s rule for decades.
But protests marking the August anniversaries of the New York Agreement and the Act of Free Choice – the political acts which formalised Indonesian control of Papua – have been further sparked by racist bullying of Papuan students in Java, and police reprisals against them for demonstrating.
The exiled leader of the United Movement for the Liberation of West Papua Benny Wenda said the independence movement was peaceful and that a free and fair referendum was the only solution to the long-running contestation of the region.
“As Indonesia deliberately tries to create ethnic conflict in West Papua with militia, I must stress that for West Papuans our enemy is not the Indonesian people. Our enemy is only the system of colonisation. We will not be provoked. Our peaceful struggle is for a referendum.”