Aug 19, 2019
Thousands of protesters in Indonesia's West Papua province have set fire to a local parliament building
MANOKWARI, Indonesia — Thousands of people in Indonesia's West Papua province set fire to a local parliament building on Monday in a protest sparked by accusations that security forces had arrested and insulted students from neighboring Papua province, officials said.
The angry mob torched the building and set fire to cars and tires on several blocked roads leading to a seaport, shopping centers and offices in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province, Vice Gov. Mohammad Lakotani said.
"The city's economy has been paralyzed by the demonstrators," Lakotani said. "Negotiations between protesters and the authorities are currently underway to end the riots."
Television footage showed orange flames and gray smoke billowing from the burning parliament building.
An insurgency has simmered in Papua since the early 1960s, when Indonesia annexed the region, a former Dutch colony. In recent years, some Papua students, including some who study in other provinces, have become vocal in calling for self-determination for the province.
Residents of West Papua are ethnically similar to those in Papua.
Protesters also destroyed parts of an airport in Sorong, another city in West Papua province, local police chief Mario Christy Siregar said.
He said rioters broke windows and burned some belongings, but security forces were able to secure the facility and the incident did not disturb airport activities.
Lakotani said the demonstration in Manokwari was triggered by allegations that police had arrested and insulted dozens of Papuan students in their dormitories in the East Java city of Surabaya a day earlier.
Police stormed the dormitories in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, on Sunday after Papuan students staying there refused to be questioned over allegations that they had intentionally damaged the national red-and-white flag in the dormitory's yard.
East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera said 43 students were detained but released hours later after no evidence was found that they had damaged the flag.
Amateur video showing police, backed by soldiers, calling the Papuan students "monkeys" and "dogs" circulated widely on the internet, sparking anger in Papua and West Papua.
President Joko Widodo urged people to forgive each other after the riots.
"My brothers and sisters in Papua and West Papua, I know you feel offended. Therefore, as fellow countrymen, to forgive each other is the best. You may get angry but forgiving is better," Widodo said. "Please believe that the government will maintain the honor and welfare of all people in Papua and West Papua."
National Police Chief Tito Karnavian expressed regret over the riots in West Papua, which he said had been triggered by the treatment of the Papuan students and by a hoax about a Papuan student being killed during the detentions in Surabaya.
"There are some people who deliberately stirred this information for their own interests," Karnavian told reporters in Surabaya. "That is not true, this is a hoax and I call on people in Papua and outside Papua not to be provoked by untrue news."
Last Thursday, a group of Papua students who were holding a pro-independence rally in the city of Malang clashed with members of a local right-wing organization and were detained by police for questioning.
Several thousand protesters also staged rallies on Monday in Jayapura, the capital city of Papua, with many in the crowd wearing headbands with a separatist flag. The protest dispersed peacefully after Papua Gov. Lukas Enembe asked participants to stop.
Enembe lamented the incidents in Surabaya and Malang.
"Indonesia has been independent for 74 years, and intolerant, racist and discriminatory actions should not be allowed in this country," he said in a statement, "Racial acts in Surabaya have hurt us in Papua."
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.