Pacific News Minute: Dozens Dead in New Violence in West Papua

Sep 26, 2019

At least 26 people have been killed after violence erupted again in restive West Papua. The worst incident came after rumors that a high school teacher from another part of Indonesia insulted an indigenous student with a racial slur.

Widely circulated videos showed Indonesian police yelling, “monkeys” and “dogs” as they forcibly arrested Papuan students at a university in Java earlier this month, and weeks of unrest followed as protest marches in several Papuan cities turned into riots. The anti-racism demonstrations also increasingly took up demands for independence. Indonesia cut off the internet to limit the spread of what it called “false and inciteful information.” Jakarta also sent 6,000 additional troops and police.

Just as it looked as if calm had been restored, reports spread of the racial insult in Wamena, the chief town of the highlands and again, protests turned to riots and arson, as government buildings and shops were set ablaze. Most of those killed were trapped in burning buildings.

In a separate incident in the provincial capital of Jayapura, police confronted a group of university students, including some of the 2,000 students recently returned from Java. Military spokesman Eko Daryanto said that one policeman was killed and several others injured; police opened fire, killing three. Hundreds of students are reportedly under arrest.

Earlier this month, Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands raised the issue of human rights abuses against their fellow Melanesians in West Papua at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. They also noted that Indonesia has yet to provide the UN Human Rights Commissioner long promised access to West Papua.