TIMIKA, Indonesia — Indonesian police opened fire and killed two men and wounded a woman as a dispute over a traffic accident spun out of control in the restive province of West Papua, officials said Thursday.
Police were forced to use lethal force in self-defence when dozens of angry residents became violent after a motorist fled the scene of an accident in the city of Manokwari, provincial police spokesman Wachyono told AFP.
The mob, armed with knives and spears, blocked roads and threw stones at police who arrived at the scene late Wednesday, he said.
“Our members opened fire at the angry residents. They did it automatically in self-defence against people who brought knives, spears and wooden sticks,” Wachyono said.
“I believe they felt their lives were threatened. If they hadn’t opened fire they would have been hit by the residents,” he added, rejecting allegations the police used excessive force.
Papuan tribal representative Dominikus Sorabut, from the Papuan Customary Council, said heavily armed “Mobile Brigade” police acted out of revenge after the mob pelted them with stones.
“The policeman who was hit by stones ran back to his station and came back with a troupe and acted blindly by shooting people,” he said.
Unconfirmed reports from human rights activists said the dead men were a priest and his son, and hundreds of local residents had gathered with the bodies in front of the governor’s office Thursday to demand justice.
Indonesia’s police are widely accused of abusing the basic rights of indigenous Melanesians in Papua, where a low-level insurgency has simmered for decades.
Earlier this month police killed six people in Central Sulawesi province after locals rose up against them in anger at the death in custody of a local man who had been arrested for traffic infringements.
Police had to be pulled out of the town of Buol for their own safety as furious residents roamed the streets looking for them.