Christian pastor, soldier shot dead in Indonesia's Papua

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A soldier and a Christian pastor have been shot dead in separate incidents at the weekend in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua, amid a flare-up in tensions between security forces and separatists groups in the restive area.

In a statement, Indonesia’s military said patrols involving the army and police were being stepped up in the Intan Jaya district after the soldier died on Saturday from gunshot wounds inflicted by an armed criminal group.

His death, the military said, came two days after another soldier and a taxi driver were killed in a shootout with the armed criminal group, which is how the military typically describes separatists in the region.

Papua has been plagued by long-running separatist tensions since the former Dutch colony was incorporated into Indonesia after a U.N.-backed 1969 referendum called the Act of Free Choice, which has been widely criticised by human rights groups.

Separately, Yeremia Zanambani, a pastor known for translating the Bible into Papua’s Moni dialect, died on Saturday after being shot while tending his pigs in Intan Jaya.

The military said a statement the pastor had been shot by a criminal armed group.

But the pastor’s church, the Indonesian Gospel Tabernacle Church (GKII), disputed this and in a statement said it had received information he had been shot by military officers.

Another pastor at the church, Timotius Miagoni, said by telephone Zanambani’s wife had found her husband bleeding in the pigsty and told Miagoni he had been shot by military personnel.

Reuters was unable to reach Zanambani’s wife for comment or independently verify the circumstances of the shooting.

Military spokesman Colonel Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa declined to comment on the claim since he said it was a time for condolences and prayer.

On Sunday, Suriastawa in statement accused rebels of spreading “fake news” about the shooting.

Since the incident, GKII said at least seven congregations in the area had fled to the forest and urged authorities to protect civilians.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Fanny Potkin; Editing by Ed Davies