JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities opened fire on Papuan protesters, killing six people, as they tried to storm a local government office in the Deiyai region on Wednesday, reported news website Suarapapua.com citing a separatist group spokesman.
“The shooting is still happening right now, we don’t know how many victims there are,” Markus Haluk, an executive of pro-independence United Liberation Movement for West Papua, told Reuters by telephone.
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo dismissed the media report of protesters being killed as “a provocation”, adding that only information from the Papuan police can be trusted.
Papuan military spokesman Eko Daryanto said some officers were shot by arrows.
“We don’t know yet how many victims because communication from there has been limited,” he told Reuters by phone.
Thousands of Papuans have been protesting over perceived ethnic discrimination since last week, with protesters torching a market, a jail and government offices.
The demonstrations were triggered by a racist slur against Papuan students, who were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained in the city of Surabaya on Indonesia’s main island of Java on Aug. 17, but some protest rallies grew into a broader demand for an independence vote.
About 1,200 police officers have flown to the region which has a heavy military presence due to decades of separatist conflicts.
Jakarta has cut internet access in the region in the past week, to stop people sharing “provocative” messages that could trigger more violence, a step criticised by rights group and journalists, who said it had made reporting difficult.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and Jessica Damiana; Editing by Michael Perry)