Indonesia deploys more police reinforcements to Papua as fresh violence erupts

Indonesia's easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua on the island of New Guinea - collectively known as Papua - have been racked by civil unrest for nearly two weeks.

East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia was preceded and followed by violent rampages by pro-Jakarta militias in what have been described as a "scorched-earth campaign" backed by the Indonesian military. However, when the new nation was formally recognised as a sovereign state in 1949, the western half of New Guinea was not incorporated into the Republic of Indonesia. Sign-up now and enjoy one (1) week free access! They unanimously supported joining Indonesia.

The outcome has been disputed by many Papuans, who are ethnic Melanesians, distinct from most Indonesians. The confirmation came as reports from two eye witnesses said six protesters had died and at least three others were injured by shots fired by security forces as violence broke out.

Despite abundant natural resources, Papua and West Papua provinces have poverty rates of more than 20%, compared with the national rate of 9.4% and 3.5% in the capital Jakarta, according to Indonesia's statistics agency.

What led to the protests?

In December, violence erupted in the province, leaving at least 17 people dead and triggering a military crackdown.

Response from Indonesian authorities has been sparse.

The spark for the latest unrest was a racist slur against Papuan students, who were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained in the city of Surabaya on the main island of Java on August 17, Indonesia's Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag. The mob accused the students of desecrating an Indonesian flag.

State energy firm Pertamina shut several petrol stations in Jayapura because of the protest, Pertamina spokesman Fajriyah Usman said.

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Police have called on the public to stay calm.

A poorly armed and fractured separatist movement has simmered in Papua for decades.

"We don't know yet how many victims because communication from there has been limited", Papuan military spokesman Eko Daryanto told Reuters by phone. He said one of the protesters was killed by a bullet and the other by an arrow.

Ngurah Suryawan, an anthropologist at Papua University, said the masses attacking the building were not merely expressing their anger towards the central government Jakarta but also towards the MRP.

Will the unrest impact mining?

In the nearby town of Timika last week, thousands of protesters threw rocks at government buildings and shops. Operations were unaffected but workers at the mine have been warned to limit travel.

Many called for independence from Indonesian rule and end to racism against the minority group.

The government has cut internet access in the region since last 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 hard. Businesses there have also suffered. The region is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua. He promised to further develop Papua.

  • Sonia Alvarado