INDONESIA: Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s Papua area claimed to have slain nine army men the day before, after Jakarta rejected a call for negotiation, while the military reported one combatant killed in the attack on Saturday.
Indonesian military spokesman Julius Widjojono stated on Sunday that other soldiers were scattered to other locations in the hunt for captured Susi Air pilot Phillip Mehrtens, and they were experiencing communication problems because of the severe weather.
“As of 2:03 p.m. local time (0503 GMT), the information we have indicates one person died. We have not received any other information because it is difficult to reach the area, especially with the uncertain weather,” Julius stated when queried about higher casualty counts.
Julius stated that the military will now escalate the effort to rescue Mehrtens as they have determined the location of the pilot.
“It has been difficult because of the erratic weather,” he said.
In February, the New Zealand pilot was abducted by the TPNPB (West Papua National Liberation Army). The group first asked that Jakarta recognise the region’s independence, but this month they told the media they were willing to forego that demand and pursue talks instead.
Sebby Sambom, a rebel spokeswoman, stated in a taped statement on Sunday, “We asked the Indonesian and New Zealand governments to free the hostages through peaceful negotiations.”
But on March 23, the Indonesian military and police attacked citizens. The TPNPB troops threatened to exact revenge as a result, and they have already begun doing so, Sambom said, noting that the conflict was still going on Sunday.
Herman Taryaman, a military spokesman in Papua, rejected the claim that civilians had been attacked in March, stating that the security forces had been defending people who had been driven from their homes by the rebels.
In the far-flung and resource-rich Papua province, there has been a low-level struggle for independence from Indonesia for decades. Analysts claim that the conflict has recently gotten much worse.
The fighting broke out when the former Dutch colony was ceded to Indonesia in a contentious vote overseen by the United Nations in 1969.