By Niniek Karmini | AP
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Two soldiers were killed in a clash between security forces and independence fighters in Indonesia’s restive easternmost province of Papua, the military said Wednesday.
Military spokesman Col. Taibur Rahman said rebels opened fire at troops on patrol in a village in Intan Jaya district on Tuesday, killing at least two soldiers. The village is known as a hotbed of separatist rebels.
He said the troops had been deployed to help police prevent any disturbances by separatists ahead of Christmas celebrations in the predominantly Christian region.
The shootout is the latest in a series of violent incidents this year in the mineral-rich but impoverished Papua region, where conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common.
The military said two suspected rebels were killed in a gunbattle on Dec. 2 in Lanny Jaya district, in an apparent escalation of attacks by the West Papua National Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Movement, marking Dec. 1, which many Papuans consider to be the anniversary of what should have been their independence.
Police said they arrested at least 34 people accused of treason on Dec. 1 for attending a ceremony and raising flags with the separatist symbol. A declaration of independence from Dutch rule on Dec. 1, 1961, was rejected by the Dutch and later by Indonesia.
In September, more than 30 people were killed during violent protests by thousands of people in Papua and West Papua provinces against alleged racism toward Papuans.
An insurgency has simmered since the early 1960s in Papua, a a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.