JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The death toll from violent protests in Indonesia’s restive Papua province has risen to 26 after several bodies were found under burned buildings, officials said Tuesday.
An angry mob torched local government buildings, shops and homes and set fire to cars and motorbikes in Papua province’s Wamena city on Monday in a protest by hundreds of people sparked by rumors that a teacher insulted an indigenous student.
Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said Tuesday that six more bodies were found in and around the burned-out wreckage of buildings engulfed in the fires set by rioters. Another 70 people were injured.
He said the number of dead is expected to rise as authorities comb through affected areas in Wamena. Another 70 people were hospitalized, many with burn wounds or head injuries.
National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said police were questioning 733 university students involved in another protest in Jayapura that left one soldier and three civilians dead.
The students were among those studying in other Indonesian provinces who returned home during previous protests last month. Those protests were triggered by videos circulated on the internet showing security forces calling Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs” in East Java’s Surabaya city when they stormed a dormitory where Papuan students were staying after a torn Indonesian flag was found in a sewer.
The students had forced a local state university to accommodate them.
Also Monday, a mob of angry students attacked a soldier and several police officers with machetes and rocks, forcing security forces to respond with gunfire, killing three civilians. The soldier died on the way to a hospital. At least five police officers were in critical condition.
Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished Papua region, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.
In recent years, some Papua students, including some who study in other provinces, have become vocal in calling for self-determination for their region.