At least seven die in Irian Jaya separatist fighting

JAKARTA, Indonesia, AP

Fighting between security forces and independence activists in Indonesia’s remote Irian Jaya province on Friday killed at least seven people dead and 38 injured, hospital officials and police said.

Clashes broke out after police and soldiers lowered the separatist Free Papua Movement’s “Morning Star” flag in Wamena town, in the province’s central highlands, said a local military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Officials at the town’s state-run hospital said some of the dead were independence protesters who had been shot by riot police. Others, who were settlers from elsewhere in Indonesia, were killed by arrows and axes.

Three Indonesian police were among the injured.

John Rumbiak, a spokesman for the Irian Jaya-based Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy, said the violence escalated through Friday as thousands of people — armed with bows, arrows and machetes — streamed into the town from surrounding villages in support of the activists.

A priest at Wamena’s main Catholic church, Tarsisius Awe, said several houses had been set on fire as about 50 people, including small children, sought shelter from the violence in the church.

He said the sound of gunfire could be heard continuously echoing across the town.

“People are running into the church,” Awe said in a phone interview. “It’s so dangerous out there. Everyone is afraid.”

Flying the separatist flag is against Indonesian law. Several people caught doing so have been charged with sedition and face up to 15 years in jail.

Rebels maintain that the region, about 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) east of Jakarta, has been independent since 1961, when its Dutch rulers agreed to allow self-rule.

Indonesian forces occupied the then colony in 1963. Jakarta’s sovereignty was rubber-stamped by a hastily convened assembly of village chiefs, which pro-independence activists dismiss as a sham.

Irian Jaya is also known as West Papua and occupies the western half of New Guinea island.

Meanwhile, Makassar on Sulawesi island, police opened fire on protesters demonstrating against a recent fuel price hike. At least seven people were injured.

Protests have flared for most of this week in Makassar, formerly known as Ujung Pandang, 1,300 kilometers (780 miles) northeast of Jakarta.