Indonesia police fire warning shots at Papua student protest

People running after gunshots were fired during a protest at Cenderawasih University in Indonesia's Papua, on Sept 28, 2020.
People running after gunshots were fired during a protest at Cenderawasih University in Indonesia's Papua, on Sept 28, 2020.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM VERONICA KOMAN/TWITTER

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian police fired warning shots on Monday (Sept 28) during a protest in Papua by several hundred university students opposing plans to extend a special autonomy status that critics say has not done enough to help people in one the country's poorest areas.

The 2001 Special Autonomy Law, which is set to expire next year, was supposed to give the area a larger share of revenue from its rich resources and more political autonomy.

"Despite the funds, healthcare isn't guaranteed and education remains minimal," student Ayus Heluka said by telephone after attending Monday's rally at Cendrawasih University in the Papuan capital of Jayapura.

Papuan police spokesman Ahmad Kamal confirmed by telephone that police had fired warning shots but denied a claim by a lawyer at the rally that two students had been hurt and three arrested.

Video and photo footage on social media showed people running in panic after shots were heard.

There has been a flare-up in tensions in Papua between security forces and separatists groups in recent weeks, with the deaths of at least two civilians and two soldiers, including the shooting of a popular Christian pastor.

Papua has been plagued by separatist tensions since the former Dutch colony was incorporated into Indonesia after a UN-backed 1969 referendum called the Act of Free Choice, which has been widely criticised by human rights groups.

Extensive protests erupted in 2019 in several cities in Papua in response to claims of racist abuse and physical mistreatment of Papuan students in the city of Surabaya.

Some Papuan pro-independence groups warn demonstrations against the renewal of the special autonomy law could persist.

The government has previously said it is working to develop the region. An official at the home ministry's regional autonomy office, which oversees the issue, declined to comment on Monday, when asked about Monday's rally and extending the law.

Dr Adriana Elisabeth, who researches Papuan communities, said that were benefits from special autonomy, such as scholarships and infrastructure, but said the benefits "do not reach those in the grassroots".