The Indonesian province of Papua is under pressure after riots erupted on Monday (August 19th). A regional parliament was set on fire as thousands of protesters protested against the arrest of pro-independence students.

Protesters took to the streets of Manokwari, the capital of western Papua - populated by some 130,000 - whose parliament was destroyed by the flames.

Residents also set fire to shops and vehicles, ripped off road signs and thrown stones at government buildings, according to an AFP journalist on site who estimated the total number of protesters to be several thousand.

Indonesian Security Minister Wiranto called for calm and announced an investigation into the events leading up to the riots in Manokwari, which also caused unrest in several other cities in the province on Monday. "It really disrupted the unity of our nation," he said.

Arrest of students accused of burning an Indonesian flag

These riots are the last sign of violence in a region marked by sporadic independence rebellion against the Indonesian government.

During the riots, three policemen were injured in Manokwari by stone throwing, according to the authorities. No information was available on wounded on the side of the demonstrators.

The riots were prompted by reports of the arrest of 43 gentile students by police on Saturday after tear gas was fired in Surabaya, the country's second-largest city, during a demonstration coinciding with independence of the country.

According to Papuan militants and local media, riot police have raided a dormitory to dislodge students accused of destroying an Indonesian flag. The police claimed to have briefly arrested the students, interrogated them and released them.

Images broadcast by the television showed demonstrations organized against these students during which racial insults were pronounced against the Papuans.

Independent in 1961 and then annexed by Indonesia in 1969

As one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, Papua has been the scene of violent events since last year. In December, at least 16 Indonesian workers working for a public company on an infrastructure project were killed by separatist rebels.

Last month, two soldiers were killed in Papua during clashes with separatists.

The Indonesian military has been accused by NGOs of human rights abuses against the Melanesian population, including killing peaceful protesters.

Papua declared itself independent in 1961, but Indonesia took control by force in 1963 of this region rich in natural resources. She officially annexed Papua in 1969.

Many Papuans claim independence, like Papua New Guinea, another half of this big island, which got it in 1975 after being an Australian colony.

With AFP