Protesters burn local government building in Papua protest

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Protesters in Indonesia’s Papua province set fire to a local government building and broke into a prison yesterday, officials said.

National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said the building was torched in Abepura town. He said he could not confirm reports that protesters also set fire to several other buildings, including offices, shops and gas stations.

The government has blocked telecommunication and Internet access in the region since last week amid spreading protests that have at times turned violent.

The protests were triggered by videos circulated on the Internet showing security forces calling Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs” in East Java’s Surabaya city.

A video obtained by The Associated Press from Abepura showed demonstrators, including students in yellow jackets, chanting “Freedom Papua” and paving posters reading “We are not monkeys.”

Papuan students shout slogans during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP

Many in the crowd wore headbands, and held banners demanding a referendum for independence.

Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Wiranto told reporters ahead of a hearing with lawmakers in the capital, Jakarta, that he received a report saying that protesters had also broken into a prison in Abepura.

Wiranto, who uses one name, said he instructed security forces in Papua not to take repressive measures and real bullets should not be used in dealing with the protesters.

At least one Indonesian soldier and two civilians were killed on Wednesday in a violent protest in Deiyai, a district in the province. Police said protesters stole at least 10 rifles. Indonesia maintains a significant police and military presence in the volatile provinces of Papua and West Papua, a mineral-rich region where a decades-long separatist movement simmers.

Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished region, which Indonesia annexed more than half a century ago, before it was incorporated into the country in 1969 after a United Nations (UN)-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.