JAKARTA: Indonesian security forces were battling on Monday to restore order in a town in the easternmost province of Papua, a police spokesman said, following media reports of buildings set ablaze and gunfire amid fresh demonstrations by protesters.
Sometimes violent protests convulsed the region for two weeks in late August over racial slurs against Papuan students in Java’s city of Surabaya, who were teargassed in a dormitory and detained over accusations of desecrating a national flag.
There was “chaos” in Wamena, the biggest town in the highland area of Papua, state news agency Antara quoted district police chief Toni Ananda as saying.
The agency cited another official as saying the town’s airport had been shut.
One of Indonesia’s biggest news portals, Kompas.com, said demonstrators had set fire to homes and government buildings during a rally allegedly triggered by racist slurs directed at students by a teacher in Wamena.
Gunshots were heard during a telephone call with its correspondent in the town, the website added.
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told Reuters the situation “is being handled by police and the military so that this does not spread wider,” and he was awaiting reports from regional officers.
Resource-rich Papua, which is home to the world’s biggest gold mine and its second-biggest copper mine Grasberg, was a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial UN backed referendum in 1969.
Since then, the region has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.
After the August protests began, Indonesia has sent almost 6,000 additional military and police personnel to the region, and authorities for a time blocked Internet access to prevent use of social media.
Police have rounded up dozens of people for damaging public property in the protests, with several named as treason suspects over a demand for an independence referendum that authorities have ruled out.