Protesters take to the street to face off with Indonesian police in Manokwari, Papua on Aug. 19. (AFP photo)
Indonesia has sent troops and cut internet access in a bid to quell violent protests in Papua this week over the recent arrest and alleged racism directed at dozens of Papuan students in East Java.
More than 1,000 police and troops have been sent to reinforce security forces, while the Communications Ministry “temporarily cut” internet access to aid the process to restore security, it said.
Police fired tear gas at protesters in Fakfak district on Aug. 21 after a mob set fire to a local market. Other buildings were set on fire elsewhere.
At least 34 protesters had been arrested said police who added that the latest trouble erupted after a peaceful rally earlier in the day became violent.
Mimika district police chief, Agung Marlianto, said of those in custody 13 were arrested after they blockaded roads, seized used tires from workshops and displayed the outlawed “morning star” flag.
Pro-independence groups in the Papua region use the flag as a symbol of freedom.
Another 21 protesters were arrested for damaging a hotel close to the parliament building and setting fire to two excavators, said Marlianto, who claimed that, “intruders had taken advantage of the peaceful rally.”
Two policemen and a soldier were injured in the unrest, he added.
Previously, a local parliament building was torched on Aug. 19 in the West Papuan capital Manokwari, while other administrative buildings in Mimika district were also attacked. In Sorong city, hundreds of people marched through the streets and destroyed parts of an airport.
The violence, in what observers say are the worst riots to have beset the region for many years, began as a result of alleged discrimination and racism directed at 40 Papuan students arrested in the East Javan cities of Surabaya and Malang on Aug. 16.
The students, who were released two days later, were allegedly tear gassed and then arrested after being accused of throwing an Indonesian flag into a sewer, which they denied.
During their arrest, police and bystanders called them “monkeys, dogs and pigs,” Indonesian news website Tirto reported.
Sacred Heart Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina, apostolic administrator of Merauke Archdiocese, in Papua, called for an end to the violence, but also condemned the alleged racism that triggered it.
All people “share a noble dignity which must be respected and protected,” he said Aug. 22.
Racism is “an inhumane and immoral act,” he said, adding it was little wonder Papuans staged rallies in protest.
“It is understandable that they feel offended by racist abuse,” he said.
Expressing sadness over the subsequent violence, he called for protests to be peaceful.
“Papuan people are civilized and dignified. They should not be savage like those who spout racism,” the prelate said.