Protesters burn local government building in Papua calling for region’s independence

JAKARTA:Protesters in Indonesia’s restive Papua province set fire to a local government building and broke into a prison on Thursday as thousands rallied against racism and called for their region’s independence, officials said.

National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said the building was torched in Abepura town. He said he could not confirm reports that protesters also set fire to several other buildings, including offices, shops and gas stations.

The government has blocked telecommunication and internet access in the region since last week amid spreading protests that have at times turned violent. The protests were triggered by videos circulated on the internet showing security forces calling Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs” in East Java’s Surabaya city.

A video obtained by The Associated Press from Abepura showed demonstrators, including students in yellow jackets, chanting “Freedom Papua” and paving posters reading “We are not monkeys.” Many in the crowd wore headbands adorned with morning star flag that is a separatist group symbol, and held banners demanding a referendum for independence.

Wiranto, the coordinating minister for Politics, Law and Security told reporters ahead of a hearing with lawmakers in the capital, Jakarta, that he received a report saying that protesters had also broken into a prison in Abepura.

Wiranto, who uses one name, said he instructed security forces in Papua not to take repressive measures and real bullets should not be used in dealing with the protesters.

At least one Indonesian soldier and two civilians were killed Wednesday in a violent protest in Deiyai, a district in the province. Police said protesters stole at least 10 rifles.

Indonesia maintains a significant police and military presence in the volatile provinces of Papua and West Papua, a mineral-rich region where a decades-long separatist movement simmers and the predominantly Christian indigenous people resent an influx of Muslim Indonesians.

Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished region, which Indonesia annexed more than half a century ago, before it was incorporated into the country in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.