Jakarta (AFP) – A soldier was killed in Indonesia's Papua region on Wednesday (Aug 28) during a clash with separatist protesters, officials said, with the territory gripped by unrest.
A group of police and military personnel were attacked by Papuans armed with machetes and bows and arrows, Papua military spokesman Eko Daryanto said.
One soldier was killed with several more injured during the clash that happened during a rally of more than 1,000 people in the district of Deiyai, he added. "We don't know about other victims right now," Daryanto told Agence France-Presse.
A report in local news website Suarapapua.com said six demonstrators had been gunned down by the authorities. That could not be independently verified.
If confirmed, it would mark the first deaths of protesters after more than a week of riots and violent demonstrations in Indonesia's easternmost territory.
"The situation is still very unclear because of the communication problem," said national police chief Dedi Prasetyo. "We're still trying to confirm the reports."
Conflicting reports are common in Papua – a resource-rich but impoverished island, which shares a border with Papua New Guinea – where a low-level insurgency aimed at breaking away from Indonesia has simmered for decades.
Last week, riots and demonstrations brought several Papuan cities to a standstill, as buildings were torched and street battles broke out between police and protesters. Indonesia sent in 1,200 extra police and military to Papua as tensions soared.
The riots appear to have been triggered by the arrest of dozens of Papuan students in Java, who were also pelted with racist abuse.Police in riot gear stormed a dormitory to force out students accused of destroying an Indonesian flag, as a group of protesters shouted racial slurs at them, calling them "monkeys" and "dogs".
Jakarta has cut Internet access in the region in the past week, to stop people sharing "provocative" messages that could trigger more violence, a step criticised by rights group and journalists, who said it had made reporting difficult.