NEW: Police say they intervened because the gathering violated the permit
NEW: Activists say the melee resulted in death; police deny it
Soldiers swarm in after the Papuan People's Congress read a declaration of independence
West Papua has long had a low-level insurgency demanding separation
Indonesian security forces arrested about 300 protesters who gathered Wednesday in the eastern province of West Papua to declare independence.
Soldiers swarmed in soon after members of the Papuan Peoples’ Congress read their declaration in the provincial capital, Jayapura.
“The reason we broke in was because the Congress violated the permit. The permit was only to talk about the basic rights of Papuans,” said Papua police Senior Commissioner Wachyono.
Wachyono, like many in Indonesia, go by one name.
The soldiers fired shots in the air and used batons and canes to disperse the crowd, two prominent Papuan figures said.
Police did not dispute the account, but said the crowd fought back, resulting in about 20 injuries.
Ruben Wagai, a member of Papua’s local legislature, said three people were killed. Victor Yeimo, a spokesman for the West Papua National Committee, said at least two died.
Wachyono said there were no fatalities.
About 300 protesters were then taken into custody, but will be released, police said.
“Security forces shouldn’t use unnecessary force in quelling a peaceful demonstration,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
West Papua and the nearby Papua province has long had a low-level insurgency that demands independence from Indonesia, saying the government is trying to take its land to steal resources.
They have regularly called for a referendum on independence.
“What was read out is nothing new,” Yeimo said. “It’s been a demand from the Papuans for many decades now”.
But, Yeimo added, many at the gathering were unaware that a declaration of independence would be read. He said he didn’t agree with it either, preferring to fight for a free land through a referendum.