James Massola and Karuni Rompies, Jakarta – Deadly violence has shaken the Indonesian province of Papua once more, with reports of people being burnt alive and stabbed to death amid fierce protests.
The official death toll from the latest violence rose to 33 people on Wednesday – 29 in the regional city of Wamena and four people in the capital of Jayapura. Dozens of people were injured.
Graphic images of the dead and injured have circulated on social media, while the central government has blocked the internet in some parts of the province to stop the spread of hoaxes and make it more difficult for protesters to organise.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Wamena on Monday, burning dozens of shops, homes, government buildings and more, while in Jayapura students and protesters had clashed with police.
Amnesty International Indonesia's executive director Usman Hamid said the violence was "one of the bloodiest days in the past 20 years in Papua" and called for an immediate, independent investigation.
"The investigators should publicise the results of their investigations. Those responsible for human rights violations involving criminal offences should be held accountable in fair trials," he said.
Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal seven people had been arrested in Jayapura on Tuesday. "The seven people [in Jayapura] were those who attacked security forces, including stabbing to death one soldier."
Ahmad said police and military patrols had been stepped up in response to the violence and the situation was returning to normal. "Not all shops have re-opened but we encouraged people to return to their regular activities."
Victor Mambor, a Papuan expert with the Indonesian Press Council, said local journalists were unable to verify police figures on the number of people killed and injured.
"We cannot access people in Wamena. The internet was dead yesterday but it has come back this morning, though only in some areas. The police figures do not mention missing people. This morning some students came to our office saying four students are missing," he said.
He expressed his regret that foreign journalists had been blocked from travelling to the restive, independence-minded province.
"My observation is that foreign media present the Papuan's perspective in their stories, it is different to Indonesian media who speak more of Jakarta's perspective. It's like they are remote-controlled, although some Jakarta-based Indonesian media are beginning to give space to Papuan voices too."
The latest violent protests were sparked by claims a teacher made a racist comment to a Papuan student, though Indonesian government officials have labelled this a hoax.
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo blamed the separatist KNPB (West Papua National Committee), which campaigns for independence from Indonesia, for the violence.
The latest violent protests come just weeks after an uneasy calm had descended on the Papua and West Papua provinces.
Riots broke out in August after alleged racism from Indonesian police directed at Papuan students in Surabaya. The Indonesian government sent in 6000 police and soldiers to restore calm.
National police chief Tito Karnavian said 22 of the people killed had been migrants from other parts of Indonesia who had moved to Papua, underscoring the fact that many Papuans feel they are missing out economically
A referendum on independence for Papua was agreed under a UN-brokered deal in 1969 but the vote allowed just 1026 locals chosen by Indonesia to vote – and they voted unanimously for incorporation into Indonesia. A low-level insurgency has continued ever since.
– With agencies