People gather as shops burn in the background during a protest in Wamena in Papua province, Indonesia, Monday, Sept 23, 2019. Hundreds of protesters in Indonesia's restive Papua province set fire to homes and other buildings Monday in a protest sparked by rumours that a teacher had insulted students, and a soldier was killed in another protest in the region, police said. Photo: AP Photo.

Jakarta - At least 20 people were killed and scores injured on Monday as new violence erupted in Indonesia's rebellious Papua province, officials said.

Sixteen civilians were killed and 65 injured in the town of Wamena in a riot sparked by a rumour that a teacher made racist comments to indigenous Papuans, provincial military spokesman Eko Daryanto said.

"We are still collecting information but so far we have 16 dead," Eko told dpa.

He said the dead victims were mostly migrants from outside Papua.

Provincial health chief Aloysius Giyai said earlier that four people, including a soldier, were killed and 10 injured in clashes between security forces and student protesters in Jayapura, about 250 kilometres from Wamena.

"The cause of the deaths is still being examined," Giyai told dpa.  

Two weeks of unrest between late August and early September left at least five people in Papua and West Papua provinces dead. It was sparked by perceived heavy-handed and racist treatment of Papuan students by security personnel on Java island.

Protesters in Wamena set fire to the district office and commercial buildings, police said.

National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said security personnel were struggling to put the situation under control. 

"We are trying to prevent the anarchic action from spreading," he told reporters. 

A Papuan news website, Jubi.co.id, said the arson attack occurred after security forces fired tear gas and warning shots. 

The protest involved hundreds of senior high-school students, who were angered by a rumour that a non-indigenous teacher had called Papuans "monkeys."

Police said an investigation found that the rumour was a hoax.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged the public not to fall for baseless rumours designed to destabilize the country.

"The anarchic action started with fake news," Joko said.

"I appeal to the public to cross-check any information they see on social media," Joko said.

Authorities imposed an internet blackout on Papua and West Papua provinces on August 21 in an attempt to restore order after protesters set fire to buildings and attacked security forces.

Internet services have since been restored.  

The two weeks of protest saw thousands of people march through the streets of the two provinces, many chanting "Free Papua!"

Authorities in Jakarta said five people were killed during that unrest, but local activists said they recorded at least 13 deaths. 

The mainly Melanesian region, which makes up the Indonesian half of New Guinea island, has been the scene of low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s.

dpa