Indonesian military dismisses rebel claims of heavy casualties as ‘fake news’

Pizaro Gozali Idrus and Tria Dianti
Indonesian military dismisses rebel claims of heavy casualties as ‘fake news’ Indonesian military spokesman Rear Adm. Julius Widjojono speaks during a press conference at military headquarters in Jakarta, April 16, 2023.
Achmad Ibrahim/AP Photo

Indonesia’s military on Monday rejected as “fake news” claims by Papuan separatist rebels that they had killed at least nine government soldiers who were taking part in an operation to free a New Zealand pilot held hostage by the insurgents.

Meanwhile the military’s top brass, including Armed Forces Chief Adm. Yudo Margono, flew to the Papua region on Monday in the wake of a rebel ambush that left at least one Indonesian soldier dead in Nduga regency on Saturday.

The West Papua National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, claimed it carried out the attack and said it had killed at least nine members of the Indonesian security forces.

“Very wrong, misleading. The names of the troops who have regrouped at the nearest posts proved that the information was fake news,” Rear Adm. Julius Widjojono, the spokesman for the armed forces (TNI), told BenarNews when asked about the rebels’ claim.

“The developments are very positive. The troops have started to regroup,” he said but declined to give more details.

Julius said the soldier was killed when rebels ambushed troops who were conducting a raid on a suspected rebel hideout in Nduga, where the pilot, Philip Mehrtens, was abducted on Feb. 7.

Adm. Yudo, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dudung Abdurachman, and Lt. Gen. Maruli Simanjuntak, the chief of the Army Strategic Forces Command, traveled to Papua on Monday to “evaluate the operation,” Julius said.  

On Sunday, Liberation Army spokesman Sebby Sambom warned that armed attacks would continue if Indonesia refused to hold peace talks with the separatists involving the United Nations.

The group also said it was willing to negotiate with both the Indonesian and New Zealand governments for the release of Mehrtens, but had not received a response.

“The U.N. and New Zealand must pressure Indonesia to stop military operations and negotiate under the mediation of a neutral third party,” Sambom said.

Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost region, is home to a decades-old insurgency that has heated up in recent years.

Indonesia annexed the former Dutch colony in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored referendum that was seen as rigged.

Human rights groups have accused Indonesian security forces of committing abuses against civilians in Papua, while the government has restricted access to foreign journalists and activists.

In addition, armed separatist Papuan rebels have been accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

During the last month, including the ambush on Saturday, five Indonesian soldiers have been killed in clashes with Papuan rebels.

Gen. Dudung has ordered a comprehensive evaluation of the training system for personnel who will be deployed in military operations, Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Hamim Tohari said.

“The Army chief of staff instructed all units of the Army to prepare troops to support any kind of operation as directed by the commander of the armed forces,” Hamim said in a statement Monday.

The evaluation would cover all aspects of training for soldiers and units that would be assigned to carry out military operations, he said, adding that the army would take strategic steps as needed.

Arie Firdaus in Jakarta contributed to this report.



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