Timika, Indonesia – Indonesian security forces shot and killed three separatist rebels who were suspected in an attack that killed a New Zealander near the world's largest gold mine in the easternmost province of Papua, police said Saturday.
Clashes near the Grasberg copper and gold mine began Feb. 29 and had left two security personnel and four rebels dead. On March 30, eight gunmen shot and killed New Zealand miner Graeme Thomas Wall when he and six employees of PT Freeport Indonesia were in a parking lot at the company's office in the restive province.
Two Indonesian miners were in critical condition while four others suffered minor injuries.
The West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Spokesman Sebby Sambom warned mine employees to leave the area that the group declared a battle zone.
Rebels in Papua have been fighting a low-level insurgency since the early 1960s, when Indonesia annexed the region that was a former Dutch colony. Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham.
The mine, which is nearly half owned by U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan and is run by PT Freeport Indonesia, is seen by separatists as a symbol of Indonesian rule and has been a frequent target.
The current violence caused about 2,000 villagers to flee to neighboring Timika city.
Local police chief Era Adhinata said security forces on Thursday raided a house owned by a security guard of PT Freeport Indonesia, who also was a rebel supporter. They shot and killed two suspected rebels in a gunfight, arrested the owner, and seized weapons and a "morning star" flag of the separatist movement.
Adhinata said the two slain rebels had been identified as gunmen in the shooting of the New Zealander and the others.
He said security forces killed another rebel during a shootout on Friday in the Mount Botak of Tembagapura mining district, and seized an assault rifle and ammunition.
A National Liberation Army of West Papua commander, Lekagak Telenggen, confirmed the police claim in a statement released Saturday. He called on the U.S. and Indonesia to stop the gold mine operations in Papua.
"We have sacrificed a lot... but we will keep fighting for the freedom of Papua," he said.
[Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.]