By Ainur Rohmah
Police said Thursday a group of armed militants were holding hostage 1,300 residents in two villages, near the giant Grasberg copper mine in eastern Indonesia’s Papua province.
Boy Rafli Amar, the provincial police chief, told Anadolu Agency that the group, since Tuesday, had not allowed residents to leave the two villages in Tembagapura sub-district, Mimika Regency.
“They have robbed the residents. There have been reports of rape and incidents of shooting at ambulances,” he said.
Gen. Tito Karnavian, the country’s police chief, said the armed group, active since 2012, consists of 20-25 people.
"(They) carry at least five to 10 weapons," Karnavian said, according to local media outlet kompas.com.
The group was using miners in the villages as hostages to avoid police arrests, Karnavian said.
Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, the military chief, accused the separatist Free Papua Organization (OPM) of the hostage situation, according to local news outlet Kompas.com.
Sebby Sambom, spokesman of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, accepted they were not letting people leave the villages as the security forces were about to launch a counter-terror operation in the area.
"The authorities are about to evacuate 1,300 civilians to Timika to vacate the locations that will be the target of the operation," Sambom said as quoted by local media outlet wartaplus.com.
Hundreds of security personnel have gathered in Mimika, since Monday, for a counter-terror operation against the militants.
Papua has been home to a low-level insurgency ever since the former Dutch colony was transferred to Indonesian rule in 1963.
Despite being rich in natural resources, the province is among the most impoverished. It has witnessed political arrests and alleged human rights abuses by security forces over the last few decades.
Late in October, a shootout with the militants in the province left a policeman dead and six others injured.