Indonesian troops recover bodies of 6 workers missing after attack by Papua separatists

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian security forces said Saturday they have recovered the bodies of six traditional gold mining workers who had been missing since a separatist attack at their camp in the restive Papua region almost two weeks ago.

Gunmen stormed a gold panning camp in the Yahukimo district of Highland Papua province on Oct. 16, killing seven workers and setting fire to three excavators and two trucks, said Faizal Ramadhani, a national police member who heads the joint security force.

Hours later, a two-hour shootout took place between members of the joint security forces of police and military and the rebels occupying the camp, Ramadhani said.

The West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Eleven workers who had hid in the jungle were rescued safely after Indonesian security forces cleared the camp. However, they only found one body, and the six other victims had been declared missing until their rotting bodies were recovered early Friday near a river, a few kilometers from the camp. Two of the remains were charred and the four others had gunshot and stab wounds, Ramadhani said.

It was the latest in a series of violent incidents in recent years in Papua, where conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common.

Rebel spokesman Sebby Sambon confirmed the group’s fighters carried out the attack. He said the group had warned all workers to leave Indonesian government projects as well as traditional gold mining areas, or they would be considered part of the Indonesian security forces.

“The West Papua Liberation Army is responsible for the attack Oct. 16 at Yahukimo’s gold panning camp,” Sambom said in a statement provided to The Associated Press on Saturday. “Because they were outsiders and were part of Indonesian intelligence.”

Indonesia’s government, which for decades has had a policy of sending Javanese and other Indonesians to settle in Papua, is trying to spur economic development to dampen the separatist movement.

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 are common.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the region, which was divided into five provinces last year.

Attacks have spiked in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.

Data collected by Amnesty International Indonesia showed at least 179 civilians, 35 Indonesian troops and nine police, along with 23 independence fighters, were killed in clashes between rebels and security forces between 2018 and 2022.