At Least 26 Killed as Indonesia’s Papua Rocked by Violence

Arys Aditya

(Bloomberg) -- At least 26 people were killed and dozens injured as fresh clashes erupted in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, according to military and police officials.

Protesters clashed with police and military in the cities of Jayapura and Wamena on Monday after a hoax about a student being racially abused went viral on the social media, according to Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal. Twenty two of those killed were in Wamena alone, a city in the Papua mountain region. The clashes also left 72 people injured, and dozens of vehicles, houses and government buildings were torched in the day-long rioting, he said in a statement.

The resource-rich Papua region was rocked by separatist protests last month, forcing authorities to deploy additional troops to quell the violence that targeted government buildings and the army. The region is home to Grasberg copper and gold mine, operated by Freeport-McMoRan Inc. and the Tangguh LNG project run by BP Plc.

Located in the western half of the island of New Guinea, Papua became part of Indonesia following a controversial U.N.-backed referendum in 1969. Decades of conflict between separatists and the government ensued, with the latter standing accused of repeated human rights abuses, rampant deforestation and the exploitation of natural resources.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday said the latest bout of violence was triggered by hoaxes spread on the social media and he urged people to restrain from rioting and targeting public properties.

The violence-hit cities were calm on Tuesday and efforts were on to start a dialogue with protesters, according to National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo. Authorities have restricted mobile data services in Wamena regency to prevent the spread of hoaxes, the communications ministry said.

Operations at PT Freeport Indonesia’s massive Grasberg copper and gold mine were unaffected by protests and riots, company spokesman Riza Pratama said.

The latest clashes are an attempt to provoke the Indonesian security forces and draw the attention of the United Nations General Assembly to the unrest, Widodo’s chief of staff Moeldoko said in a statement. He appealed to the police and army to show restraint.

Jokowi, as the president is known, has spent billions of dollars on new infrastructure in an effort to cultivate warmer relations with secessionist factions that have long pursued independence from Indonesia. But the relative lull in violence was broken with the detention and racial abuse of 43 Papuan students in Surabaya for alleged desecration of Indonesia’s national flag during the independence day.

(Updates death toll in lead, second paragraph)

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