A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea on Sunday, the US Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of damage.
The quake hit just after 4:00 pm local time (0600GMT) at a depth of 31 kilometres (19 miles) some 122 kilometres (75 miles) south of Kokopo, the capital of PNG’s East New Britain province, the USGS said.
Geoscience Australia senior seismologist Trevor Allen said coastal communities near the epicentre would have felt “quite strong ground shaking” as the tremblor was close to the shore.
But, he said, the area was relatively sparsely populated and flexible building design locally helped limit exposure to damage from quakes.
“The East New Britain region is one of the most seismically active regions in the world and would generally tend to get an earthquake of this size once or twice a year,” he told AFP.
Miriam Koikoi, a receptionist at Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort, told AFP the shaking was “not that big” and she had not seen any signs of damage.
PNG sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, which is a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.
Its mountainous and remote terrain means it often takes several days for information about damage from quakes to reach officials and aid agencies.
Indonesia has blocked internet access in unrest-hit Papua over fears that a stream of offensive and racists posts online will spark more violent protests in the region, the government said Thursday.
Riots and demonstrations brought several Papuan cities to a standstill this week, as buildings were torched and street battles broke out between police and protesters in Indonesia’s easternmost territory.
A rebel insurgency against Jakarta’s rule has simmered for decades in the island region, which shares a border with Papua New Guinea.
But the riots appear to have been triggered by the arrest of dozens of Papuan students — who were also pelted with racist abuse — in Java at the weekend.
Indonesia slowed internet service in recent days to clamp down on hoaxes, provocative comments and racist abuse targeting Papua’s ethnic Melanesian population. But it shut down service completely late Wednesday.
“As of this morning, there is still a full block on internet access,” communications ministry spokesman Ferdinandus Setu told AFP.
“The amount of racist and provocative content online was very high… and it went viral.”
The region’s three internet providers cooperated with the shutdown, but many users managed to get around the block, Setu said.
“The restrictions have not been that effective,” he added. “We’re still evaluating the situation… and will probably lift the block by this afternoon if possible.”
Calm appeared to have been mostly restored Thursday after Indonesia sent in 1,200 extra police and military to Papua, with some 45 protesters reportedly arrested.
Indonesia’s chief security minister Wiranto, who goes by one name, flew to the island late Wednesday with the head of the military and Indonesia’s national police chief.
They were expected to hold a press briefing Thursday in riot-hit Manokwari city.
In Jakarta, more than 100 demonstrators calling for Papuan independence scuffled with police near the presidential palace, while dozens of placard-holding demonstrators protested in Bali’s capital Denpasar.
The unrest was sparked by reports that authorities tear-gassed and briefly detained some 43 Papuan university students in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city, on Saturday — the country’s independence day.
Police in riot gear stormed a dormitory to force out students who allegedly destroyed an Indonesian flag, as a group of protesters shouted racial slurs at them, calling them “monkeys” and “dogs”.
Papua has been the scene of a decades-old rebel insurgency aimed at gaining independence from Indonesia, which took control of the former Dutch colony in the 1960s.
Security forces have long been accused of committing rights abuses against Papuans who say they have not shared in the region’s vast mineral wealth.
Indonesian soldiers hunted on Wednesday for rebels suspected of killing as many as 24 construction workers in restive Papua province, as an eyewitness account supplied by the military described a grisly mass execution.
The survivor’s account detailed the killing of at least 19 people, which if confirmed would mark the deadliest bout of violence in years to hit a region wracked by a low-level independence insurgency.
A Facebook account purportedly run by the National Liberation Army of West Papua (TPNPB) said the armed group had killed 24 workers on the orders of regional commander Ekianus Kogoya.
Authorities have yet to confirm how many were killed in the weekend attack.
On Wednesday, some 150 military personnel were focusing their operation at Nduga, a remote mountainous region where a state-owned contractor has been building bridges and roads as part of efforts to boost infrastructure.
Many Papuans view Indonesia as a colonial occupier and its building work as a way to exert more control over an impoverished region that shares a border with Papua New Guinea, an independent nation.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo said Wednesday he backed the hunt for those behind what he described as the “alleged assault”.
“I have ordered the chiefs of the military and national police to chase and arrest all the perpetrators of these barbaric and inhumane acts,” he told reporters in Jakarta.
Police and military teams sent to the area on Monday came under rebel gunfire with one soldier killed and another wounded in the firefight, authorities have said.
Four workers — including three suffering gunshot wounds — were among a dozen civilians who have been evacuated from the area so far.
On Wednesday, the military supplied an account from one survivor identified by his initials “JA” who claimed about 50 rebels entered the workers’ camp on Saturday and led them away with their hands tied behind their backs.
The following day, the rebels shot dead a group of workers, while some tried to escape, the account said.
The attackers allegedly recaptured six workers and slit their throats, according to the uninjured witness, who said at least 19 employees had been killed in all.
Previous local media reports pegged the number of dead between 24 and 31.
AFP has confirmed with relatives that the eyewitness worked for the contractor in the area where the killings allegedly took place, but his account of a massacre could not be independently verified.
Indonesia routinely blames separatists for violence in Papua and foreign media need permission to report there so obtaining reliable information is difficult.
The military has long been accused of rights abuses against Papua’s ethnic Melanesian population including extrajudicial killings of activists and peaceful protestors.
This weekend, about 500 activists — including an Australian — were arrested in a nationwide police crackdown that coincided with rallies on December 1, a date many Papuans consider their anniversary of independence from Dutch colonialists.
Papua declared itself an independent nation on that date in 1961, but neighboring Indonesia took control of the resource-rich region by force two years later. It officially annexed Papua in 1969 with a UN-backed vote, widely seen as a sham.
Papua experienced several spasms of violence this summer including the killing of three local people, allegedly by rebels.
But much of the past violence has involved skirmishes between rebels and Indonesian security forces.
It is unclear how the rebels are funded, but some of their arms flow in illegally from across the border in Papua New Guinea while others are snatched from Indonesian military personnel, according to authorities.
In August, Pole Jakub Skrzypski was arrested in Papua over an alleged arms deal involving separatists and he could face life in prison if convicted. His trial date has not yet been set.