Three civilians, including a toddler, have been killed and four wounded after a shootout between Indonesian security forces and armed separatists in the country’s easternmost Papua area, a military spokesman said on Thursday.
Tuesday’s incident comes after additional security forces were deployed to restore security in Papua, following a series of sometimes violent demonstrations since August, triggered by concerns over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination.
The shootout happened when security forces clashed with separatists in the West Papuan town of Ilaga, said Eko Daryanto, the spokesman.
“The separatists started shooting sporadically at joint security forces who were approaching them in front of a honai (traditional Papuan house),” he said in a statement.
“After they (security forces) responded with shots, the separatists ran for the woods while shooting indiscriminately.”
A resident of the area, Noris Wakerwa, said some villagers had fled to the nearby forest when he arrived to help with evacuation.
“We evacuated the dead and the wounded to the community health center,” he said by telephone.
Daryanto said the military and police would conduct a joint investigation into the shootout.
Protesters torched a market, a jail, and government offices in demonstrations that erupted when Papuan students in Surabaya on the main island of Java were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag.
A video was later circulated showing security forces using racial slurs to denigrate the students.
Some protesters are also demanding an independence vote – a move ruled out by Indonesia’s security minister.
Almost 6,000 additional military and police personnel have been dispatched to the region since the protests began and authorities for a time blocked internet access to prevent Papuans accessing social media.
The resource-rich area of Papua – which is home to the world’s biggest gold mine and second-biggest copper mine Grasberg – was a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial U.N. backed referendum in 1969.
Since then, the region has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.