JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's human rights commission on Thursday urged President Joko Widodo to end rights violations in the easternmost province of Papua after police were alleged to have killed one person and wounded 16 others while trying to quell a protest.


The incident started on Tuesday when workers at a construction site in the province's Deiyai district refused to transport a man who had nearly drowned in a river to a hospital, according to local media Tabloid Jubi.


Residents were angry when the man eventually died and attacked the workers' camp and assaulted police officers who were called by the company, the news website reported.


Officers fired warning shots to disperse protesters, police spokesman for the Papua region A.M. Kamal said. He disputed the number of victims, saying police records showed nine residents, not 16, were wounded by the warning shots and one died from a wound in his leg.


"President Jokowi should take the initiative and lead the settlement of humanitarian cases in the land of Papua through peaceful dialogue comprehensively .. within the framework of the unity of the Republic of Indonesia," Maneger Nasution, an official at Indonesia's Human Rights Commision, said in a statement, referring to the president by his nickname.


The commission - a state institution in charge of research and mediation of human rights problems, independent from the government - has sent its members to Papua to investigate the incident, Nasution said.

A presidential spokesman declined to comment.

Natalius Pigai, another commissioner at the institution, called the incident "a serious human rights violation".

A heavy handed approach by the police and military on behalf of companies "has happened for a long time, massively and systematically. More than 60 people have died because of cases like this," Pigai told Reuters.

Police spokesman Kamal said its internal investigation unit and commission members had begun questioning construction workers on Thursday. They would interview police officers involved in the incident on Friday.

Reports of human rights abuses often emerge from Papua, where a separatist movement has simmered for decades.

The International Coalition for Papua in its 2017 report said there was a significant aggravation of the human rights situation in Papua in 2015 and 2016 compared to previous years.

Indonesia took over the former Dutch colony after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969. Despite its rich resources, the province is among the poorest regions in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

(Reporting by Jessica Damiana and Stefanno Reinard; Additional reporting by Jakarta Newsroom; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Christian Schmollinger)