Jakarta – Indonesian security forces shot dead an 18-year-old Papuan separatist during a shootout, a military spokesman said on Wednesday, though a separatist group disputed the account and said the victim was a civilian.
Remote Papua, the country's easternmost region, has been plagued by a simmering separatist conflict since the former Dutch colony was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized, U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.
Eko Daryanto, a military spokesman, said in a statement the shootout erupted on Tuesday when a patrol of soldiers and police clashed with separatists.
"Not long after the shootout, the joint forces cleaned up the site and retrieved items of evidence," he said, adding the body of a separatist was found at the scene.
But Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the West Papua National Liberation Army, a separatist group, denied his members had been in the area at the time and said the victim was a civilian.
"There was no shootout... the security forces cracked down on villages," he said.
Since coming to power in 2014, President Joko Widodo has pledged to speed up development and open up access in Papua, but in spite of a rise in investment and efforts to tackle some human rights problems, activists say abuses by the security forces persist.
This month, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) released its findings into an investigation of a five-year-old case, accusing the military of "gross human rights violations" in connection with the shooting dead of four teenagers in Papua in December 2014.
The four were killed when a protest over the alleged abuse of a child turned violent in the town of Enarotali and security forces opening fire on protesters after being attacked by the crowd.
Officials said at the time the government was striving to resolve rights issues in Papua but faced a five-decade accumulation of socio-economic and political problems.
Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD was cited by media on Wednesday as saying the government would follow-up on the findings of the report.
Amnesty International said in a 2018 report that Indonesian security forces in Papua have unlawfully killed at least 95 people in the eight years since 2010.
[Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Robert Birsel.]