JAYAPURA: Indonesian authorities and armed separatists were locked in a tense standoff near a huge US-owned mine in restive eastern Papua province Friday, with both sides blaming each other for what police claimed was a hostage crisis, reports AFP.
Some 700 heavily armed Indonesian military personnel encircled two villages near US firm Freeport-McMoRan’s gold and copper mine, where they claimed an armed separatist group was keeping 1,300 residents against their will.
Villagers have been prevented from entering or leaving their small communities for two days, but have so far not been harmed, authorities said earlier Friday.
“These people are from a criminal group that commit violence and intimidation—what they want is war,” local police chief Victor Dean Macbon said.
“For now we are prioritising pre-emptive and preventive measures. We still have not forced our way in because we don’t want the villagers victimised,” he added.
The separatists, part of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), have been fighting a long-running insurgency marked by periodic bouts of violence.
Backers of the group and an official at Indonesia’s human rights body said the gunmen were not holding locals hostage but rather, protecting residents from the police and military.
The villages are in an area where there have been a string of recent shootings, including one last month that left a policeman dead.