Indonesia searches for missing soldiers after Papua rebel attack
TIMIKA - Indonesian forces on Tuesday were searching for four soldiers who went missing last week after a deadly rebel ambush in Papua, the country's military chief said.
The missing troops were part of the search for Phillip Mark Mehrtens, a pilot with Indonesian airline Susi Air, who was taken in February by armed separatists at Nduga airport in Papua.
They were on their way to the pilot's location in the hilly Nduga region on Saturday when rebels started shooting at them, Indonesian military chief Yudo Margono said.
"We had received information on the whereabouts of the kidnapped pilot. We hoped that, together with local people... we could establish communication and negotiate for the pilot's release," Margono told reporters in the Papuan city of Timika.
"That's what we hoped (for), but rebels shot at us when we were trying to reach the location."
One soldier was killed in the ambush, and the military was searching for the four troops still missing, he added.
The military has not identified the rebel group responsible for the ambush, but the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) -- the militant wing of Papua's main separatist group -- has claimed it.
TPNPB said it had killed at least 13 Indonesian soldiers in the attack, but Margono dismissed that as a "hoax".
AFP cannot independently verify claims from either side due to the remoteness of the location.
The rebels have previously demanded that Indonesia recognise Papuan independence in exchange for the pilot.
TPNPB has called on New Zealand and the United Nations to stop Indonesian military operations in the area.
Indonesia maintains a heavy military presence in resource-rich but underdeveloped Papua to quell a long-running separatist insurgency.
A former Dutch colony, Papua declared independence in 1961, but neighbouring Indonesia took control two years later, promising an independence referendum.
The subsequent vote in favour of remaining a part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham. - AFP