Indonesian plainclothes police escort suspects of a riot in Jayapura, Papua province. File photo/AFP
Indonesian authorities have arrested 85 people linked to weeks of deadly unrest in Papua, police said, as Jakarta accused an exiled separatist leader of stoking riots in its easternmost territory.
Tens of thousands protested across Papua — on the western half of New Guinea island — as anger over racism and fresh calls for self-rule fuelled mass demonstrations and violent clashes with security forces.
Officially, five demonstrators and a soldier were killed, but activists say the civilian death toll is higher.
Jakarta blocked internet services in Papua, making it difficult to independently verify information. The ban has been gradually lifted though remains in effect in some cities.
Foreigners have also been restricted from entering the region over what the government said were security concerns.
Indonesian police said they have arrested 85 people in Papua since the unrest broke out in mid-August and are hunting for another 20 suspects.
Authorities have arrested suspects in other parts of the country and issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Indonesian lawyer and Papuan rights defender over allegations she spread fake news about the unrest on her social media account.
Authorities also pointed a finger at Benny Wenda, chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, saying he stoked riots to draw global attention to renewed calls for an independence vote.
The area has been racked by civil unrest for two weeks over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination. Some protesters are also demanding an independence vote, although authorities have ruled out such a possibility.
Police have flown in 1,200 additional officers to Papua to quell sometimes violent protests since Monday in several towns in Sorong and Fakfak.
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo dismissed the media report of protesters being killed as "a provocation", adding that only information from the Papuan police can be trusted.
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