At least 10 people were killed in a gun battle between police and rebels in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, authorities said, in an apparent retaliation for the execution of a top intelligence chief.
The hours-long shootout Tuesday in remote Puncak district ended with nine guerrillas and a police officer dead, while two more officers were wounded, police said.
“We ambushed the area after confirming their whereabouts,” Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal told AFP on Wednesday.
Police said they believed the dozens-strong rebel faction was responsible for the Sunday slaying of General I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha, who headed Papua’s intelligence agency.
But rebel group spokesman Sebby Sambom dismissed the report of rebels being killed as a ‘big lie’ and ‘propaganda.’
AFP could not independently verify the claim by security forces.
Conflicting reports are common in Papua — a resource-rich but impoverished island, which shares a border with Papua New Guinea just north of Australia — where a low-level insurgency aimed at breaking away from Indonesia has simmered for decades.
The spike in tensions comes after Indonesian President Joko Widodo this week ordered security forces to pursue rebels for the general’s death. Papuan separatists have claimed responsibility for his killing.
Indonesian security forces have for years been dogged by allegations of widespread rights abuses against Papua’s ethnic Melanesian population including extrajudicial killings of activists and peaceful protesters in their efforts to crush the rebel groups.
In recent weeks, security forces ramped up military operations in Puncak district after rebel groups killed soldiers and teachers, torching several schools and a helicopter.
A former Dutch colony, Papua declared itself independent in 1961, but neighboring Indonesia took control of the region two years later with the promise of holding an independence referendum.
The subsequent vote in favor of staying part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham.