JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian troops fatally shot a separatist leader in ongoing clashes between security forces and a rebel group near the world’s largest gold mine in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua region, police and rebels said Monday.
Hengky Wanmang, a leader of the Free Papua Organization, was shot as he tried to escape Sunday from an early morning raid by military and police on a house believed to be a separatist headquarters in the mountain village of Kalikopi, Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said.
Kamal said at least three other rebels were injured in a battle with security forces but managed to escape into the jungle near the mining town of Tembagapura with several other Papuan fighters armed with military-grade weapons as well as axes and arrows.
He said security forces seized an assault rifle, two guns, seven air rifles, 19 cellphones, two telescopes and 22.4 million rupiah ($1,500) in cash during the clash, which caused about 2,000 villagers to flee for safety.
Papua Police Chief Paulus Waterpauw described Wanmang as a central figure in the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization. He said Wanmang was responsible for recent attacks near the giant Grasberg gold and copper mine, operated by PT Freeport Indonesia, that began Feb. 29 and left two security personnel and four rebels dead.
On March 30, eight gunmen fatally shot a New Zealander when he and six employees of PT Freeport Indonesia were in a parking lot at the company’s office.
“Hengky Wanmang was responsible for the shootings,” Waterpau said in a statement.
He said Wanmang also led ambushes on the road to the mine in July 2009 that killed eight people, including Australian miner Drew Nicholas Grant, and wounded 37 others.
Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the liberation army, confirmed Wanmang’s death.
“It is with great regret we inform publicly that one of our leaders, Hengky Wanmang, was killed by Indonesian troops,” Sambom said in a statement Monday. “A bunch of terrorists have shot our fighters for the sake of defending American interests in Papua.”
Rebels in Papua have been fighting a low-level insurgency since the early 1960s, when Indonesia annexed the region, a former Dutch colony. Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.
The mine, which is nearly half owned by U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan and is run by PT Freeport Indonesia, is seen by separatists as a symbol of Indonesian rule and has been a frequent target for rebels.
The Grasberg mine’s vast gold and copper reserves have been exploited for decades by Freeport-McMoRan, damaging the surrounding environment while providing significant tax income for the Indonesian government.
But indigenous Papuans have benefited little and are poorer, sicker and more likely to die young than people elsewhere in Indonesia.