Riots hit the town of Abepura when the body of Thomas Wapai Wainggai, who died last week while serving a prison sentence in Jakarta, arrived in the provincial capital, Jayapura, for burial. "They burned cars and a market and damaged buildings," a spokesman said.
Residents said Jayapura, 2,000 miles east of Jakarta, was sealed off by the military. Offices were shut and frightened residents stayed indoors.
The riots broke out in Abepura after protesters were stopped from heading to Jayapura, 12 miles away. Residents and the army said last night that calm had returned but soldiers continued to patrol.
"Tension has reduced but the military is still keeping a watchful eye. There have been no reports of arrests or casualties," an army officer said by telephone from Jayapura.
An official at the Jayapura general hospital said that there were some injuries but there no reports of deaths.
Residents said the riots, by 300-400 people, were linked to Wainggai, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for proclaiming an independent Melanesian state in Irian during a flag-raising ceremony in 1987.
Seventy people, along with Wainggai, were tried for subversion and in 1988 were jailed for between six and 20 years. Wainggai, a US-trained anthropologist said to have died of heart problems on the way to a hospital from Cipinang prison, just outside Jakarta, was believed to be in his sixties.
His Japanese wife was sentenced to six years in jail and has since been released, but 21 others are still in detention.
Residents said the rioters, mostly students, wanted to take Wainggai's body to the university before it was taken to his family home. "He was a teacher at the university and they wanted to take him there before he was buried," one resident said.
Last week the Irian towns of Timika and Tembagapura, where Freeport Indonesia operates one of the world's largest copper and gold mines, were rocked by riots by disgruntled tribespeople frustrated at not benefiting from the development in Irian.
Diplomats said Wainggai was believed to have had close links with the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM), which is fighting for an independent Irian Jaya. OPM rebels have been holding 11 hostages, including six Europeans, in the forbidding jungles of Irian since 8 January.