Settlers take shelter after Irian Jaya riots


More than ten thousand frightened settlers in Indonesia’s remote Irian Jaya province prepared to spend another night sheltering in military compounds and places of worship on Monday, three days after riots that left 30 people dead, and 45 injured.

Police and military officers in the mountain city of Wamena, perched high in the elevated Baliem valley 290 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital Jayapura, said the area was still unsafe as night fell on Monday.

Day-long clashes over the forced removal of separatist flags erupted on Friday morning between troops and pro-independence Papua Taskforce members, many of them tribesmen.

Police fired on the Taskforce members, killing two and wounding 19, human rights monitors said.

Enraged militants later turned their anger on migrant settlers from other parts of Indonesia, whom they suspected of hiding scared officers, and attacked them with poison arrows, axes, scythes and knives, police said.

Staff at Wamena General Hospital said six native Irianese and 24 migrant settlers were killed and 45 people, including four police officers, wounded.

“Four thousand, three hundred people are still in the military base here,” an officer who would only give his name as Surajat told AFP by phone.

“We cannot let them go yet because it’s still not safe,” he said.

Asked if the settlers were not being allowed to leave, he replied “Yes, we cannot let them go yet.”

At the local police base a sergeant who would only give his name as Alex said a total of ten thousand settlers were taking refuge across Wamena, in churches, mosques, and police, army and air force complexes.

“We have 384 in the police base here, there are 500 in the police compound mosque, six thousand at the army base and three thousand others spread across police dormitories and the air force complex. More than ten thousand in all,” the sergeant told AFP by phone from Wamena.

He said the city was virtually emptied of its inhabitants.

“Wamena looks like a ghost town,” he said.

Police arrested another 20 people there on Monday after detaining 15 suspects on Sunday and releasing 44 who were arrested earlier, Irian Jaya police chief Brigadier General Sylvanus Wenas said.

“They’re all native to Wamena. We’re charging the 15 suspects in relation to the riot,” Wenas told AFP by phone from the capital Jayapura, adding that Wamena was now “secure” and “under control.”