Thousands of ethnic West Papuan activists have set fire to a provincial parliament in a protest sparked by accusations that the security forces arrested and insulted students in East Java.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged people to forgive each other “as fellow countrymen” instead of using violence, while pledging to protect the “honour and welfare of all people in Papua and West Papua”.
“My brothers and sisters in Papua and West Papua, I know you feel offended,” the newly re-elected president said. “It’s OK to be emotional but it’s better to be forgiving. Patience is also better.”
The mob also set fire to cars and tyres on roads leading to a port, shops and offices in central Manokwari, the capital of Indonesia’s West Papua province, Vice Governor Mohammad Lakotani said.
“The city’s economy has been paralysed by the demonstrators,” Lakotani said. “Negotiations between protesters and the authorities are currently underway to end the riots.”
The police said parts of an airport in Sorong, another city in West Papua, were damaged before the security forces pushed the demonstrators back.
The two Papuan provinces on the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea make up a former Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a heavily disputed UN-backed referendum in 1969. The region has seen a decades-long, low-level insurrection.
The Indonesian police allegedly arrested and insulted numerous Papuan students in their dormitories in the East Javan city of Surabaya on Sunday.
The students in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, reportedly refused to be questioned over allegations that they damaged the national flag in the dormitory’s grounds.
East Java police said 43 students were detained but released hours later after no evidence was found that they damaged the flag.
Javan crowds gathered outside the student dorms and reportedly chanted racist, anti-Papuan slogans and threatened violence.
Video showing the Javan authorities calling the Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs” circulated online, sparking anger in Papua and West Papua, where the indigenous population is of ethnically distinct Melanesian descent.
The use of teargas during the arrests was a “totally disproportionate” response, said Indonesian human rights lawyer, Veronica Koman.
Papua governor Lukas Enembe called for all Indonesian provinces to protect Papuan students.
“This is our common effort to prevent similar incidents in the future as well as to uphold nationalism and unity as fellow Indonesians,” he said.
“We hope that all non-Papuan people in all parts in Indonesia will maintain harmony by not taking any unconstitutional actions such as persecution, vigilante violence, selfishness, racism, discrimination and intolerance, as well as any other actions that can hurt Papuan people’s feelings or undermine harmony,” he added.
Papuans are ethnically distinct from Indonesians. Picture credit: Wikimedia