JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Separatist gunmen killed eight technicians repairing a remote telecommunications tower in Indonesia’s restive Papua province, authorities and the rebels said.
More than a dozen gunmen stormed Telkomsel’s tower while the workers were fixing its transceiver Wednesday in the mountainous village of Beoga in Puncak district, which only can be reached by helicopter, Papua military spokesperson Col. Aqsha Erlangga said.
One technician managed to escape the attack and called for help through a video from a security camera at the tower that was monitored at the company’s headquarters three hours later, Papua police spokesperson Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said. The survivor is waiting to be rescued at the scene, Kamal said.
An attempt to recover the bodies by helicopter Thursday was hampered by bad weather and heavy fog in the hilly district, a stronghold of separatists who have battled Indonesian rule in the impoverished region since the early 1960s.
“This is an extraordinary crime by the armed separatist criminal group amid the government's efforts to bring economic development,” Erlangga said in a statement. He said police and the military were searching for the attackers, who authorities believe belong to the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization.
Separately, about 15 members of an armed group attacked a military post in Dambet village in the same district on Thursday, injuring a soldier.
Rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom confirmed the group’s fighters carried out both attacks and said the group has warned all civilians to leave the areas claimed by the rebels as a “war zone” for years.
“There is no reason to justify that they are civilians when we have announced all immigrants to immediately leave the war zone,” Sambom said in a statement sent to The Associated Press early Friday. “The TPNPB under the leaders of Goliath Tabuni and Lekagak Telenggen is responsible for this attack," he said, using the local acronym of the group.
He urged all workers to leave all Indonesian government projects, or they would be considered as part of security forces.
The attacks are the latest violence in recent years in Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.
Indonesia’s government, which for decades had a policy of sending Javanese and other Indonesians to settle in Papua, is now trying to spur economic development to dampen the separatist movement. The workers involved in the development are considered outsiders by the separatists.
In December 2018, at least 31 construction workers and a soldier were killed by the West Papua Liberation Army in one of the worst separatist attacks in the province.
Attacks have spiked in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.