09/24/2019, 13.58
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Violence continues in Papua: 27 dead and over 70 wounded

by Mathias Hariyadi

Triggering a tragedy in Wamena is what the police call a "hoax" on racism that has become viral. Jakarta denounces infiltration of independence movements in the demonstrations. Students attack security forces in Jayapura: four people are killed in the clashes.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Protests against "Jakarta racism" and sentiment for independence continue to inflame the westernmost region of Indonesia: the toll from the latest violence in two cities in the province of Papua is 27 dead and over 70 injured.

The most tragic reports come from Wamena, in the regency of Jayawijaya, where yesterday hundreds of protesters set fire to a government office and other buildings (photos): 20 people were trapped in the flames and lost their lives.

According to the National Police (Polri) the other three victims are members of the National Committee for West Papua (Knpb), a separatist movement founded in 2008. In Jayapura, the provincial capital, a soldier and three civilians died in the clashes between security forces and a crowd armed with stones and machetes.

The day of clashes follows a period of relative calm in the region, which in mid-August was shaken by numerous mass demonstrations against racism. Previous protests stemmed from an incident in which nationalist groups accused Papuan university students from Surabaya of ripping an Indonesian flag during Independence Day celebrations. The groups had insulted the students, calling them "monkeys", "pigs" and "dogs". The episode sparked protests throughout Papua and other parts of Indonesia.

The military authorities today declare that they have interrogated about 700 people. According to the first investigators' reconstructions, what triggers the Wamena tragedy is what the police call a "hoax" that has become viral on social media.

Once again, this is an alleged incident of racism: a high school teacher is accused of having addressed racist insults to some local students. Last week, during a lesson, the teacher asked young people to read aloud using the Indonesian expression "baca keras" (read stronger). But the students mistook the instruction as "baca kera" (read, monkey). After days of indignation, the population took to the streets.

The Gen. Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said in a press conference in Jakarta today that "investigations confirm this version of events". The senior official said security personnel deployed to ensure public order were not equipped with lethal bullets. Protesters included infiltrators from the National Committee for West Papua (Knpb).

"The 20 victims were attacked by those we believe are activists. Together with them there were three Knpb militants, "says Prasetyo.

The clashes have forced more than 4,000 residents to flee, including women and children. They found refuge in military posts, police stations and churches (the majority of the Papuans are Christian).

The cause of the violence in Jayapura remains unknown. The incidents took place when a mob of machete and stone-throwing students attacked a soldier and police officers. Private Zulkifli was attacked and stabbed in the back; security forces responded by firing rubber bullets, injuring three civilians to death. "Six officers have suffered serious injuries," says Papua police spokesman Kamal.

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