JAKARTA, June 15 (UPI) -- Rioters in the capital of Indonesia's Papua province torched buildings and vehicles after police shot dead a senior official of a major separatist group.
Police said they shot Mako Tabuni, deputy chairman of the National Committee for West Papua, in the Abepura area of Jayapura when he resisted arrest.
Tabuni was shot after he allegedly grabbed a police officer's rifle and threatened other officers, a report in The Jakarta Post newspaper said.
However, controversy surrounds Tabuni's death as human rights groups and witnesses said he was unarmed and gunned down by police officers while standing by a kiosk.
A report by the BBC said the police judged they had no choice but to shoot Tabuni.
"When he aimed at one of the officers with a weapon, only then he was shot by the police," Papua police spokesman Yohanes Nugroho told the BBC's Indonesian Service.
"We suspect that he was behind the string of violence in Papua since March."
A report in the Post said Tabuni ignored police warning shots.
One of the (police) personnel released a warning shot but Tabuni ignored it and pointed the firearm at our members," a police spokesman said in a written statement. "Another policeman later shot Tabuni."
Tabuni was taken to the Bhayangkara Police Hospital where he was pronounced dead about an hour after he was shot.
Police said they found a gun on Tabuni they identified as being the firearm stolen from a police officer in 2010, The Jakarta Post report said.
Papuans and separatist sympathizers took their anger into the streets of Jayapura, a report by the independent West Papua Media Alerts Web site said.
WPMA said "the Australian-funded and trained Detachment 88 counter-terror troops shot dead Tabuni, during a botched arrest attempt while he was chewing betel nut at a kiosk."
WPMA said that "credible independent church human rights sources in Jayapura" had spoken to witnesses who claimed Tabuni was shot and wounded by heavily armed Indonesian police as they stormed the area outside student dormitories at the Cenderawasih University Abepura.
Police later raided student accommodations, carrying off books, clothes, computers, cellphones and cameras, the WPMA report said.
Tensions remain high in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, about the size of Spain and which occupy the western half of the island of Papua. The state of Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half.
Both provinces have had separatist movements engaging in a low-level but continuous struggle since 1969 when the two provinces became part of Indonesia.
The government in Jakarta claimed the referendum showed the population favored union with Indonesia.
Papua province originally covered all of the western half of the island of New Guinea. But in 2003, the Indonesian government created a separate province call West Irian Jaya -- now West Papua -- out of the extreme western edge of Papua province.
Papuans are ethnically Melanesian and closer to Australia's aborigines than the Asians who make up most of Indonesia's population.
Papuans say their culture and identity is being eroded by an influx of Asian Indonesians.
Also, Papua and West Papua are the poorest regions in Indonesia but are extremely rich in natural resources. Separatist Papuan leaders claim few of the region's population get a fair share of the wealth when the resources are exploited, often by international companies.
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