Updated: 02/21/2013 19:41 | By Agence France-Presse

'Separatists' kill eight soldiers in Indonesian Papua

Indonesian authorities suspect separatists were behind the slaying of eight soldiers in Indonesian Papua Thursday, in the biggest attack on security forces in the restive region's recent history.


Gunmen shot dead the eight and wounded another in two separate incidents among the mountains of Puncak Jaya district, a known hideout for rebels where attacks on police and soldiers are common.

Coordinating Security Minister Djoko Suyanto said the government "strongly condemned the brutal incident" and suspected the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM) was behind the shootings.

"Based on our intelligence, there are several (separatist) groups in the area," Suyanto told reporters, adding that groups in Tingginambut and Sinak, where the attacks took place, were led by known OPM commanders.

"We always try to map and chase them but you must understand the mountainous and dense forests in Papua make the work difficult," he said.

Security analyst from the University of Indonesia, Andi Widjajanto, told AFP: "This is big number of deaths, especially as they were all soldiers. This has never happened before in Papua."

The first incident took place at 9:30am (0030 GMT), when an armed group opened fire on a military post in Tingginambut village, killing one soldier and wounding another, Papua province military spokesman Jansen Simanjuntak said.

An hour later in nearby Sinak, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) away, armed attackers opened fire at nine soldiers walking to a nearby airport, killing seven of them.

"They were going to the airport to pick up packages containing communication devices. All of the soldiers were unarmed," Simanjuntak said.

Suyanto urged all parties to allow the police and military to carry out their mission in hunting down the perpetrators without disruption, to "defend the rights of our soldiers".

Violence occasionally erupts in Papua -- the western half of New Guinea island in Indonesia's extreme east -- where poorly-armed separatists have for decades fought a low-level insurgency on behalf of the mostly ethnic Melanesian population.

Jakarta keeps a tight grip on the resource-rich region with a heavy police and military presence and foreign journalists are banned from reporting out of the area.

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