Papuan protesters torch buildings and fire arrows at police as clashes leave at least three dead

Protesters in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua have torched government buildings and fired arrows at police in violent clashes that saw at least three people killed.

For the past two weeks, thousands of civilians have been demonstrating across the vast province against perceived discrimination from Indonesian officials. 

Sparked by a video in which security officers call Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs”, the protests are increasingly characterised by demands for independence from Indonesia, which launched a military operation to seize Papua half-a-century ago.

On Thursday demonstrators set buildings ablaze in the provincial capital of Jayapura, forcing the state electricity firm to cut power to parts of the city.

According to Veronica Koman, a human rights lawyer and member of the National Committee for West Papua activist group, the provincial Papuan Assembly and “several other buildings” in Jayapura were burned.   Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who set fires to cars and threw stones, according to state news agency Antara.

On Wednesday, more than 1,000 people tried to storm a police station in the town of Deiyai, according to police, some wielding machetes and bow-and-arrows.

A protester hold posters that read "We are monkeys, monkeys want to be separated from Indonesia"

Officials claimed that two protesters and one soldier died as a result of the confrontation.   Police spokesperson Ahmad Mustofa Kamal on Thursday said that one of the protesters was killed by a flying arrow hitting them in the stomach.

“The protesters shot arrows and threw rocks at our officers,” he said. “We even heard gunshots coming from their direction, so that is why we shot back.”  

Protesters claimed the police fired into the crowd first and one group said at least six had been killed – a claim the military dismissed as a hoax.  

Verifying information from the region is difficult as authorities have shut off the internet and phone landlines in some areas. 

Security forces in the region, which borders the country of Papua New Guinea, have been accused of human rights abuses against Papuans, who are ethnically distinct from most Indonesians. 

Ms Koman said that the torching of the Papuan People’s Assembly building in Jayapura should be interpreted as a message of defiance. 

“They’re saying, ‘We’re rejecting autonomy or any compromise with the Indonesian state… we want a referendum on independence’,” she said.  

Papua officially joined Indonesia in a 1969 vote that many dismiss as a sham.

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