JAKARTA (Reuters) - Shooting broke out at a protest in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua on Wednesday, and police there said that one soldier and two protesters had been killed.
A news website earlier said that as many as six people had been killed, but the army dismissed that as “a hoax”.
Since last week, thousands of people in Papua have protested over perceived ethnic discrimination, leading to the torching of a market, a jail and government offices. Separatist conflicts have flared in the region for decades.
Shooting broke out on Wednesday when hundreds of protesters demonstrated in front of the office of the local regent in the town of Deiyai, local authorities said.
Papuan police spokesman Ahmad Kamal said in a statement that one soldier had been killed and two protesters had died. He said one of the protesters was killed by a bullet and the other by an arrow. He did not say how the soldier died. Five people had been wounded, he said.
“Some civilians were killed, but there is no certainty as to how many victims there are,” Hengky Pigai, the deputy regent for Deiyai, told Reuters. He said a number of wounded were taken to the hospital.
Markus Haluk, a leader of the pro-independence separatist group United Liberation Movement for West Papua, told Reuters by WhatsApp that six had people had died and seven people were shot and injured.
An official Twitter account for the Indonesian Armed forces dismissed an earlier Reuters report quoting news website Suarapapua.com, a local resident and an activist as saying that six people had been killed.
“It’s a hoax. Protect the unity on Indonesia,” the Tweet said.
In Jakarta, the capital, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo dismissed reports of protesters being killed as “a provocation”, but said one soldier was killed and three police officers injured in the clash.
“Security forces are trying to establish order in the area,” he said, adding that only information from the Papua police was trustworthy.
Demonstrations over the past week were triggered by a racist slur against Papuan students, who were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained in the city of Surabaya on the main island of Java on Aug. 17, but some protest rallies grew into a broader demand for an independence vote.
The government has cut internet access in the region in the past week to stop people sharing “provocative” messages that could trigger more violence, a step criticized by rights group and journalists, who said it had made reporting difficult.
Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Matthew Tostevin