JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A weeklong shootout between security forces and a rebel group near the world’s largest gold mine in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua region has caused nearly 2,000 villagers to flee, officials said Saturday.
The clashes, which began Feb. 29 near the Grasberg copper and gold mine in Papua province, have killed a police officer and injured three others, Papua police chief Paulus Waterpau said.
Rebels in Papua have been fighting a low-level insurgency since the early 1960s, when Indonesia annexed the region that was 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. Freeport-McMoRan and is run by PT Freeport Indonesia, is seen by separatists as a symbol of Indonesian rule and it has been frequent target for rebels.
Waterpau said attackers believed to be members of the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, ambushed a police patrol from a hill on Feb. 29, killing one officer and injuring two others.
In a second attack, gunmen shot at a police car on Tuesday, injuring another officer, he said.
The attacks occurred in the mining town of Tembagapura in Papua, where the rebels have been fighting a low-level insurgency for independence.
A local disaster mitigation agency chief, Yosias Lossu, said buses owned by PT Freeport Indonesia evacuated a group of 258 villagers from Banti and Kali Kabur villages on Friday. Another 699 people, mostly women and children, were evacuated early Saturday.
He said about 800 villagers from Longsoran, Batu Besar and Kimbeli villages were evacuated to a police headquarters in Tembagapura on Friday.
“Most women and children are scared and feel intimidated by gunfire near their villages,” Lossu said.
A National Liberation Army of West Papua commander, Lekagak Telenggen, said in a statement released Saturday that they are responsible for the attacks in Tembagapura.
“We will keep fighting until PT Freeport Indonesia stops operating and closes,” Telenggen said.