August 30, 2019 / 11:33 AM / 3 months ago

Indonesia urges calm in Papua after two weeks of protests

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s chief security minister on Friday urged calm in the easternmost region of Papua after two weeks of sometimes violent protests, saying demonstrators’ demands for an investigation into racism had been met.

A man looks at damaged vehicles in front of Indonesia's Customs and Excise office after a riot in Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia, August 30, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Indrayadi TH/ via REUTERS

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto made the remarks during a joint news conference with several Papuan figures in the capital, Jakarta.

“Why must we kill each other because we’re offended?” Wiranto said. “Let’s return to calm, return to peace, think about the future where there is no destruction and there is development.”

The government has repeatedly called for calm in Papua, racked by the most serious civil unrest in years over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination. Some protesters are also demanding a referendum on independence, something Wiranto has ruled out.

Another 1,250 police officers will fan out on Friday night in the provincial capital of Jayapura, where protesters set fire to buildings and cars a day earlier, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.

That figure is in addition to 1,200 officers flown in last week to reinforce a region that already has a heavy military presence, due to decades of separatist conflict.

On Wednesday, shooting broke out in the remote town of Deiyai, 500 km (310 miles) from Jayapura.

Police said one soldier and two civilians were killed during the incident, while a separatist group said six people had been shot dead. The military dismissed that as a hoax.

An internet ban in the entire Papua region since last week has made verifying information difficult.

Wiranto, a retired general, said a “certain party” was taking advantage of the situation to cause chaos and reap the benefit. He did not elaborate.

Based on reports as of Friday morning, the situation in Papua and West Papua provinces was calm, although there were plans for more protests, he said.

The spark for the latest protests was a racist slur against Papuan students, who were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained in the city of Surabaya on the main island of Java on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag.

A legal process was underway for two military personnel involved in the Surabaya incident, and police had identified two people suspected of hate speech, who were in a crowd who mobbed the dormitory, Wiranto said.

Speaking alongside the minister, Samuel Tabuni, a Papuan community leader, also urged calm, but called on the government to treat Papuans more fairly.

“Why was law enforcement not been conducted properly? Especially in Surabaya, the legal process started after we demonstrated, but racism has happened for a long time, fuelling Papuans anger,” Tabuni said.

Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez

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