Indonesian soldier killed in rebel attack

JAKARTA (AFP) – An Indonesian soldier was killed yesterday in a shootout with rebels in Papua, prompting more than a thousand civilians to flee fighting near the world’s biggest gold mine.

The soldier died in a firefight yesterday after rebels ambushed a military office in Jila district near the Grasberg gold and copper mine, operated by US-based Freeport McMoRan, the military said.

“The officer was hit by a ricocheting bullet and later died at the hospital,” said army spokesman Dax Sianturi.

The shootout comes after authorities said a police officer was killed last month in the same region. Papua rebel spokesman Sebby Sambon said the separatist movement was responsible for the attack.

The mine is a frequent flashpoint in a conflict fanned by demands for independence and a bigger share of the region’s vast resources.

Papuans who fled their villages due to fighting near the Grasberg gold and copper mine, gather at a makeshift shelter in Timika. PHOTO: AFP

More than 1,500 residents, including children, have fled the area for larger Timika city in the past few days, Papua police said, as they vowed a strong response to the attack.

“We will take firm measures because they are using guns and many of our members and citizens have become victims,” said Papua police chief Paulus Waterpauw.

Indonesian authorities routinely blame rebels for violence in the area.

Weeks of intense fighting had not affected Freeport’s business, the company said.

“The company’s operations have not been disrupted although we’ve asked our workers to stay alert and be safe,” said spokesman Riza Pratama.