A toddler and teenager were among three people killed in a gunfight between security forces and independence-seeking rebels in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, the military said on Thursday.
The deadly clash comes after mass demonstrations and violence gripped Papua – on the western half of New Guinea island – fuelled by anger over racism and fresh calls for self-rule in Indonesia’s easternmost territory.
The military said three civilians were killed, including a toddler and teenager, with four others wounded after a clash in Papua’s Ilaga region on Tuesday.
Police and soldiers were searching for rebels when a group of guerrillas stormed out of a traditional hut and fired at them, sparking a chaotic gunfight, authorities said.
“Afterwards, we discovered that seven civilians had been shot . . . and three of them died,” Papua military spokesman Eko Daryanto said in a statement early Thursday.
Four other civilians were injured and taken to a local clinic for treatment, he added, without elaborating on their condition.
Earlier, the National Liberation Army of West Papua – part of a long-running separatist insurgency – said that seven civilians were “reportedly” killed in the clash.
Indonesia routinely blames separatists for violence in Papua while rebels frequently accuse the military of being the aggressors. Conflicting accounts are common.
Security forces have long been dogged by accusations of committing atrocities against civilians in Papua.
Tensions spiked in December when at least 19 employees of a state-linked building contractor were killed by rebels at a remote jungle camp.
Demonstrations broke out across the region and in others parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago after the mid-August arrest and teargassing of dozens of Papuan students, who were also racially abused, in Indonesia’s second-biggest city Surabaya.
Dozens were arrested for instigating the riots and at least five demonstrators and a soldier were killed, but activists say the civilian death toll is higher.
A low-level separatist insurgency has simmered for decades in Papua, a former Dutch colony, after Jakarta took over the mineral-rich region in the 1960s. A vote to stay within the archipelago was widely viewed as rigged.