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16 Sep 2019 6:32
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  •   Home > News > International

    West Papua protests continue despite Indonesian police claiming to have regained control

    Indonesian police say they have regained control of West Papua after flooding the region with extra officers, but protesters complain the truth is being suppressed as internet access is stymied.

    Indonesian police say they have regained control of West Papua after sending close to 1,000 extra officers to the province, which erupted into destructive turmoil days ago.

    Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Papua and West Papua in the past few days, torching tyres and government buildings as well as damaging an airport in Indonesia's easternmost territory.

    The protests were believed to have been sparked by racist comments made towards Papuan students in Surabaya over allegations of a damaged flagpole over the weekend.

    Indonesian national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told the ABC that 960 additional police officers from provinces around the country had been sent to the region to "clean up".

    "The situation as a whole is conducive … and demonstrators have agreed to stop protesting," he said.

    "The police force, Indonesian military and local Government are now cleaning the mess left behind from the protests."

    However, there are a number of Indonesian local media reports of unrest continuing in some towns, including Fakfak, where demonstrators burned down stalls at a local market.

    In Sorong, the largest city in the West Papuan province, 250 inmates are still believed to be on the run after breaking out of jail, setting it ablaze and throwing rocks yesterday.

    Separate footage posted on Twitter of protests in another part of Sorong shows men in military uniform running and yelling "Get the guns, dogs!" in response to protesters throwing rocks.

    Not long after, they can be seen in the videos yelling, "Shoot towards the sky, not forward [towards protesters]!"

    Some protestersover the past two days were seen dressed as monkeys in response to allegations that members of the Indonesian military, police and public yelled, "Monkeys, get out" at a group of West Papuan students who were barricaded inside their dormitory.

    Internet restrictions implemented to 'stop misinformation'

    Information from the ground is difficult to gather due to reporting restrictions placed on international journalists in the region.

    Indonesia's Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has also intentionally slowed down internet bandwidth in surrounding areas, but mainly around the city of Sorong.

    The decision was made to "stop the spread of misinformation", a statement from the ministry reads.

    Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman told the ABC the restrictions had made it harder for protesters to upload photos and videos of the unrest.

    "We have been relying on the reporting from West Papuans themselves," she said, adding that theIndonesian Government's decision had violated West Papuans' freedom of information rights.

    Indonesian President Joko Widodo is set to visit the region after calling for Indonesians to "forgive each other".

    "I am aware that there are some who are offended … emotions are allowed, but forgiveness is better. Patience is better," he said during a national address on Monday.

    Indonesia's acquisition of West Papua has been the cause of tension and controversy for more than 60 years.

    Freedom activists have been demanding another open referendum to determine whether it should remain part of the nation.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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