Indonesian military: 4 soldiers missing after rebel ambush in Papua

Tria Dianti
Indonesian military: 4 soldiers missing after rebel ambush in Papua Adm. Yudo Margono, commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), leads a prayer in the Babul Jannah Mosque at Yohanis Kapiyau Air Force Base in Timika, a town in Indonesia’s troubled Papua region, April 17, 2023.
Courtesy Indonesian Armed Forces’ Information Service

Four Indonesian soldiers remain unaccounted for after Papuan separatist rebels ambushed government forces at the weekend as they tried to free a New Zealand pilot held captive by the insurgents, the military chief said Tuesday.

It was the first time the military publicly acknowledged that soldiers were missing after Saturday’s deadly ambush by the West Papua National Liberation Army in Nduga, a regency in Highland Papua province.

“The fate of four personnel is still unconfirmed. We are still looking for them,” Adm. Yudo Margono, commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), told a press conference in the Papua town of Timika.

Nduga is where insurgents seized pilot Philip Mehrtens after torching his plane at a local airport on Feb. 7. Mehrtens works for Susi Air, a local airline that operates in remote areas of Indonesia.

Military officials had previously said that one serviceman from the Indonesian Army was killed in the jungle skirmish. Yudo dismissed claims by Liberation Army spokesman Sebby Sambom that 15 soldiers had been killed in Saturday’s incident.

“It’s their habit to distribute fake news,” Yudo said.  

A day earlier, a TNI spokesman also accused the Papuan rebels of disseminating “misleading” information. He appeared to suggest that government troops involved in Saturday’s incident were all accounted for.  

“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, told BenarNews, when asked about the rebels’ claim.

In Mimika on Tuesday, Yudo warned that the military would do away with its “soft approach” in dealing with the rebel group, which has been seeking independence from Indonesia since the 1960s.

“After this incident, we will evaluate our approaches,” he said. “We will increase our ground combat alert operation, from soft approach to combat alert, to boost our combat instinct.”

He also said he would rotate out the soldiers who had been stationed in the area for more than a year because of the stress they faced. He did not say how many troops were involved or where they would be relocated.

On Sunday, the Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, threatened to carry out more attacks if Indonesia refused to hold peace talks with the rebels 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.

Papua, a former Dutch colony, was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored referendum that independence supporters and human rights groups say was rigged. The Free Papua Movement has waged a low-level guerrilla war against Indonesian rule ever since.

Human rights groups have accused both sides of committing abuses against civilians in the conflict. The Indonesian government limits access to foreign journalists and aid workers in Papua and information from the region is often difficult to verify.


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