JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Gunmen believed to be separatist rebels killed 10 traders and wounded two others in an attack Saturday in Indonesia’s restive Papua province, police said.
Clashes have escalated in country's the easternmost province since last year, when rebels set fire to several schools and killed two teachers.
Attackers were believed to be members of the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, police said.
About 20 gunmen stormed the village of Nogolait in Nduga district while a grocer was preparing to open his wares. They shot him and seven other traders who were on an open freight truck, along with four passersby, said Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal.
He said that most of the victims, all men, were immigrants from other Indonesian islands. Security forces found the bodies scattered in four separate areas.
Seven men were killed instantly while three others died at a nearby clinic, Kamal said. He said police and the military were searching for the attackers.
A spokesperson for the Free Papua Organization couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
On many occasions, rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom has said the group’s fighters had warned civilians to leave areas the rebels consider a “war zone.” He also urged workers to leave all Indonesian government projects, or they would be considered part of security forces.
Papua is a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces have raged for years.
Indonesia’s government, which for decades had a policy of sending Javanese and other Indonesians to settle in Papua, is now trying to spur economic development to dampen the separatist movement.
In March, rebel gunmen killed eight technicians repairing a remote telecommunications tower. In December 2018, at least 31 construction workers and a soldier were killed in one of the worst attacks in the province.