JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian security forces in the eastern province of Papua are preparing to storm five villages that they say are being held by an armed rebel group, police officials said on Saturday.
Around 200 police and military personnel have been deployed and are awaiting orders to secure the area, where an armed separatist group linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) is preventing about 1,000 people from leaving an area near a giant copper mine, operated by the American miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc. [nL3N1NG46N]
“Today the joint police and military forces have occupied various posts to be able to take action,” said Papua police spokesman, Suryadi Diaz.
“They will be taken dead or alive,” he said of the around 100 rebels that police say have tortured and abused the villagers since taking over the area several days ago.
A state of emergency has been declared in the area and at least 300 additional security forces have been deployed to the area of the province after a string of shootings since Aug. 17 that killed one police officer and wounded six.
The rebel group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), on Friday denied occupying villages near the mine, but said it was “at war” with the police, military, and Freeport.
Papua has had a long-running and sometimes violent separatist movement since it was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.
President Joko Widodo has sought to ease tension in the two provinces by stepping up investment, freeing political prisoners and addressing human rights concerns. This is the first escalation of violence during his term.
Freeport’s Grasberg mine has been dogged by security concerns for decades due to a low-level conflict waged by pro-independence rebels in Papua. Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine project area killed 20 people and wounded 59.
More recently, Freeport, the world’s largest publicly listed copper producer, has been grappling with labor problems at Grasberg and a dispute with the Indonesian government over rights to the mine.[nL2N1N00LD]
Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ros Russell