Angry residents of Indonesia’s resource-rich Papua island burned cars and shops on Thursday after an independence activist was shot and killed, police and human rights activists said.
A low-level insurgency for independence has simmered on Indonesia’s easternmost island for decades.
Mako Tabuni, deputy of the pro-independence West Papua National Committee (KNPB), was shot dead while resisting arrest, human rights activist Markus Haluk told Reuters.
Tabuni had been campaigning for an investigation into a recent spate of shootings.
National police spokesman Muhammad Taufik said the victim was shot dead in the town of Waena during a police raid.
“He was armed. Police asked him to surrender but he didn’t. Police shot at him, hitting his hip and leg. He died on the way to hospital,” he told reporters.
Haluk told Reuters that he doubted law enforcement’s explanation of the incident.
“This is not law enforcement, this is ridiculous,” Haluk told Reuters by telephone from Jayapura, the province’s main town.
“Security forces are using the excuse of law enforcement to shoot, using the classic excuse of the separatist group stigma,” Haluk said of Tabuni’s killing.
Police confirmed Tabuni’s death saying he was shot in the hip and leg and died on his way to hospital.
Independence activist Benny Wenda released a press statement calling the shooting an “assassination” and urging the United Nations to intervene.
“There is now indiscriminate shooting taking place on the streets of Jayapura, with residents fleeing in fear. On behalf of my people, I am urging the international community to wake up and help us. We urgently need a UN peacekeeping force to be put in place and sent to the region. My people are danger in the hand of the Indonesian Military and Police,” Benny said in the press statement.
News of the killing brought people out onto the streets of Jayapura and some of them torched shops and vehicles. Television footage showed police inspecting burned out buildings and smoldering cars.
“People were angry after they heard that their leader or friend was arrested and burnt several motorcycles, cars and three houses,” security minister Djoko Suyanto said.
He added that four people had been arrested in the past two weeks over a spate of violence in the region, including the fatal shooting of a German tourist late last month.
They included KNPB head Bukhtar Tabuni, who was released from prison last year after serving three years for organizing a 2008 rally, according to police.
Police said the group was suspected of organizing protests in recent months that have left shops and public facilities in several Papuan cities badly vandalized, but it has denied responsibility.
Pro-independence rallies and displaying separatist symbols are considered treason in Indonesia, and protests in Papua, a former Dutch colony on the western half of New Guinea island, have ended in bloody clashes with police.
Jakarta annexed Papua in 1969 in a self-determination referendum widely regarded as a sham and continues to keep a tight grip on the region through its military and police to quell a decades-long insurgency by poorly armed rebels.