By Ainur Rohmah
More than 300 civilians who had been taken hostage by an armed group in eastern Papua province were “rescued” Friday, according to a top police official.
National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said the rescue operation began in the morning, led by the Papua police chief and regional army chief.
"Thank God, a joint police and army force managed to rescue 344 hostages, 23 of whom were children," Karnavian said.
"All the hostages survived, as well as the officers."
He said an operation to secure the release of about 1,000 other hostages would be intensified until all of them were freed.
The separatist group -- West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM) -- allegedly took more than 1,300 residents in two villages near Freeport-McMoRan Inc's giant Grasberg copper mine in Tembagapura district, Papua province, hostage in the past week since Nov. 7.
On Wednesday, a policeman had been killed and another wounded by gunfire that was also claimed by the separatist group linked to the Free Papua Movement.
The group said it was waging a war of West Papua’s independence against the Indonesian government. They also want to completely destroy the Freeport mine because it only benefits the government.
Tension in the mineral-rich region recently heated up after a group of armed militants engaged in gunbattle with police in late October, leaving an officer dead and six others injured.
Hundreds of security personnel have gathered in Mimika since Monday for a counter operation against militants.