JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Two Papuan independence fighters, including a rebel commander, were killed in ongoing clashes between Indonesian security forces and a rebel group in the country’s troubled easternmost region, authorities said Thursday.
The clashes began last month in restive Papua province after rebels set fire to several schools and killed two teachers in Beoga village in Puncak district.
Police and military forces launched a joint operation to find the attackers, who authorities believe belong to the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization.
A joint military and police force killed two of the Papuan fighters during a battle Wednesday with dozens of rebels who were armed with military-grade weapons as well as axes and arrows in Wuloni village in mountainous Puncak district, said Iqbal Alqudussy, spokesperson for the joint operation.
He said the rebels fled into the jungle and two were found dead by soldiers combing the area. Security forces seized a military helmet, separatist flags, documents and scores of axes, machetes and arrows from the battle scene, he said.
One of the dead men, identified as Lesmin Waker, was a rebel commander who killed a member of the joint security forces in a gunfight two weeks ago, Alqudussy said.
A spokesperson for the rebels couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Wednesday’s clash happened weeks after the chief of Papua’s intelligence agency, Brig. Gen. Gusti Putu Danny Nugraha, was killed in a rebel ambush while on a patrol after the guerrillas set fire to an elementary school and houses in a village.
An independence movement and low-level insurgency has simmered in the Papua region since the early 1960s, when Indonesia took control of the former Dutch territory. Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.
Nowadays, indigenous Papuans, largely shut out of their region’s economy, are poorer, sicker and more likely to die young than people elsewhere in Indonesia.