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Migrants account for most deaths in violence in Indonesia's Papua: police

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Most of the 30 people killed in an outbreak of ethnic violence in the Indonesian region of Papua on Monday were migrants from other parts of the country, police said on Tuesday.

Some were stabbed or shot with arrows in one of the most serious incidents of violence in years in the area. Protesters torched houses and government buildings, police said.

Monday’s bloodshed marked a major escalation in unrest in Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua, collectively known as Papua, which were rocked by demonstrations in August over perceived ethnic and racial discrimination.

National police chief Tito Karnavian said 22 transmigrants who lived in the town of Wamena and four indigenous Papuans were killed, while 66 others were wounded on Monday.

The victims were motorbike taxi drivers, shop workers and restaurant waiters, Karnavian told a news conference

In the provincial capital of Jayapura, where Papuan students clashed with security forces, one soldier and three civilians died, he said.

The migrants come from other parts of Indonesia, mainly from Java, South Sulawesi and the Moluccas islands, taking advantage of cheap land, abundant resources and economic opportunities.

They dominate the local economy, to the chagrin of indigenous Papuans, who have a distinct Melanesian ethnicity and culture. The Papuans complain they are discriminated against, especially in the economic realm, although there are policies to promote them within the civil service.

The migration began with programs launched by the government of the late President Suharto, which included subsidies. These have now stopped but migrants still move to Papua.

Wiranto, Indonesia’s chief security minister, said the violence was an effort by separatist groups to create “a horizontal conflict among us”.

Since the unrest in August, officials have accused exiled separatist leader Benny Wenda and his domestic network of using violent means to draw international attention as the United Nations General Assembly meets in New York.

Karnavian named Wenda again on Tuesday and the Papua-based National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) of being behind it.

Wenda, who has political asylum in Britain, has denied authorities’ accusations of orchestrating the protests.

A KNPB spokesman said on Monday security forces made the first attack against students in Jayapura, while the rally in Wamena was a protest against racist slurs made toward high school students by a teacher, which police say was a hoax.

Karnavian said the situation in Papua on Tuesday was under control but reinforcement would be sent to the region, bolstering the nearly 6,000 personnel already flown in from other parts of Indonesia since August.

Police were interrogating 733 students who took part in Monday’s protest in Jayapura, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.

Resource-rich Papua, which shares the island of New Guinea with the nation of Papua New Guinea, was a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial U.N.-backed referendum in 1969. The region has since endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.

The latest wave of violence erupted after a group of Papuan students in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second biggest city on the island of Java, were taunted and attacked by a crowd chanting racial epithets over accusations they had desecrated a national flag.

Police have rounded up dozens of people for damaging public property in the protests, with several named as treason suspects over a demand for an independence referendum that authorities have ruled out.

Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Angus MacSwan