JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Separatist rebels killed nine soldiers in Indonesia’s Papua Region after Jakarta refused to respond to a negotiation request.
Herman Taryaman confirmed the attack on Saturday but was unable to confirm the number killed due to the bad weather that cut off communications.
In February, the West Papua National Liberation Army abducted a New Zealand Pilot. The group demanded that Jakarta recognize the area's autonomy, but told Reuters this month they were willing to drop their demand and seek dialogue.
Sebby Sambam, a rebel spokesperson, said in an audio message recorded on Sunday that "we asked the Indonesian government and the New Zealand government to release the hostages by peaceful negotiations."
The Indonesian police and military attacked civilians in March. Sambom stated that TPNPB troops have already begun to take revenge for the attack.
Herman denied that the March attacks on civilians were a result of the security forces protecting civilians chased by rebels.
Herman asked for prayers to be offered for the army personnel searching for Phillip Mehrtens, the Susi Air pilot who was captured.
Analysts say that a low-level struggle for independence from Indonesia has been ongoing for decades in the remote, resource-rich Papua area. The conflict between armed militants and security forces has intensified significantly in recent times.
Since a controversial vote in 1969, supervised by United Nations, that saw former Dutch territory purchased under Indonesian control.