5 Papuan independence fighters killed in clash in Indonesia’s restive Papua region

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Five Papuan independence fighters were killed in a clash between security forces and a rebel group in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, police and rebels said Monday.

A joint military and police force killed the five fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, in a battle on Saturday with dozens of rebels armed with military-grade weapons and arrows in the hilly Serambakon village in Papua Highland province, said Faizal Ramadhani, a national police member who heads the joint security force.

Security forces seized two assault rifles, a pistol, several arrows, two mobile phones, cash, more than 300 rounds of ammunition and a “morning star” flag — a separatist symbol — after the clash, Ramadhani said.

Clashes between the two sides began in mid-April when attackers from the liberation army ambushed dozens of government soldiers in Nduga district and killed at least six Indonesian troops who were searching for Phillip Mark Mehrtens, a New Zealand pilot who was abducted by the rebels in February.

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 incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, the insurgency has simmered in the region, which was divided into five provinces last year to boost development in Indonesia’s poorest region.

Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the liberation army, confirmed the police claim but said that losing five fighters “would not make us surrender.”

“They were the national heroes of the Papuan people,” Sambom said in a statement provided to The Associated Press on Monday. “They died in defending the Papuan people from extinction due to the crimes of the Indonesian military and police who are acting as terrorists.”

The rebels in February stormed a single-engine plane shortly after it landed on a small runway in Paro and abducted its pilot. The plane initially was scheduled to pick up 15 construction workers from other Indonesian islands after the rebels threatened to kill them.

The kidnapping of the pilot was the second that independence fighters have committed since 1996, when the rebels abducted 26 members of a World Wildlife Fund research mission in Mapenduma. Two Indonesians in that group were killed by their abductors, but the remaining hostages were eventually freed within five months.

The pilot kidnapping reflects the deteriorating security situation in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia.

Saturday’s fighting was the latest in a series of violent incidents in recent years in Papua, where conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common.

Data collected by Amnesty International Indonesia showed at least 179 civilians, 35 Indonesian troops and nine police, along with 23 independence fighters, were killed in clashes between rebels and security forces between 2018 and 2022.


Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.