JAKARTA, Indonesia — Security forces battled independence activists armed with bows and arrows in Indonesia's remote Irian Jaya province, leaving at least 31 people dead, human rights workers said Saturday.
John Rumbiak, a spokesman for the Irian Jaya-based Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy, said many of the victims were shot to death by police after a clash Friday.
He said the violence continued into Saturday, and other victims were hacked to death with machetes or shot with arrows by pro-independence rebels.
A priest at a Roman Catholic church in the town of Wamena said others, including two young children, died when houses were set on fire.
The state Antara news agency said at least 45 people were seriously injured. Hospital officials said mass burials were held for the dead late Saturday.
The clashes erupted Friday after police and soldiers lowered the separatist Free Papua Movement's "Morning Star" flag, which activists had raised. Flying the flag is against Indonesian law, and people caught doing so face up to 15 years in jail.
Irian Jaya's police chief, Brig. Gen. Silvanus Wenas, said that reinforcements had been sent to Wamena and that 59 people had been arrested. He said the situation in Wamena had improved after soldiers forced many of the activists and separatist rebels out of the town.
But Rumbiak said Wamena remained tense as thousands of frightened residents locked themselves in their houses to escape the bloodshed.
He said that in the regional capital, Jayapura, about 1,000 students protested Saturday to demand an end to the fighting.
Rebels maintain that the region, about 2,300 miles east of Jakarta, has been independent since 1961, when its Dutch rulers agreed to allow self-rule.
But Indonesian forces occupied the then-colony in 1963. Jakarta's sovereignty was rubber-stamped by a hastily convened assembly of village chiefs, which pro-independence activists dismiss as a sham.
Meanwhile, west of Irian Jaya in Indonesia's troubled Maluku islands, one person was killed when Muslims clashed with Christians in the town of Ambon, residents said.