Separatists in Indonesia’s Papua province took responsibility Friday for the killing of eight technicians as they repaired a telecommunications mast in a remote area.
Gunmen in the mountainous district stormed the tower belonging to Telkomsel, a major state-backed telecoms company, on Wednesday, according to the military.
Rebels in Papua, who have waged a fierce insurgency against Indonesian security forces for decades, have stepped up attacks recently, targeting workers they accuse of links to the state.
During the latest assault, one technician managed to escape and raise the alarm with authorities as his colleagues came under fire, said Papua military spokesman Aqsha Erlangga.
“This is such an extraordinary crime,” he said in a statement.
Police had now taken over the investigation and a hunt was underway for the attackers, he said.
Efforts to evacuate victims’ bodies by helicopter from the remote site Thursday had been hampered by poor weather, Erlangga said.
The West Papua National Liberation Army, the military wing of Papua’s main separatist group, claimed responsibility, saying they had previously warned civilians to leave the area they described as a “war zone.”
“Therefore for us, those who were shot were part of the Indonesian military or police,” spokesman Sebby Sambom said in a statement.
The attack is one of the deadliest in resource-rich Papua for some time.
In 2018, 19 employees of a state-owned construction company were shot dead by rebels while fixing a bridge.
Papua shares a border with independent Papua New Guinea on the island of New Guinea, just north of Australia.
A former Dutch colony, Papua declared independence in 1961 but neighboring Indonesia took control two years later, promising a referendum.
The subsequent vote in favor of staying part of Indonesia, approved by the United Nations at the time, was widely considered a sham.