Hundreds of residents flee clashes near mine in Indonesia's Papua

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Nearly 1,000 residents in Indonesia’s Papua have taken refuge in the city of Timika after clashes between security forces and separatist rebels in an area near the Grasberg copper and gold mine operated by Freeport-McMoRan Inc, police said on Monday.

Papua police spokesman Ahmad Mustafa Kamal said in a statement “an armed separatist group had attacked Indonesian police and TNI (army) personnel” and 917 residents from the Tembagapura district had taken shelter in Timika.

The clashes broke out more than a week ago and Kamal said a police officer had died on Feb. 28, while Dax Sianturi, deputy spokesman of the Papua military command, said an army officer had also been killed on Monday in Timika.

Sianturi denied a claim in a statement by Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the West Papua National Liberation Army, a separatist group, that five members of the security forces had been shot dead.

Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said by text message that operations at the mine had not been affected by the latest unrest, but asked employees to report immediately any unusual events.

Indonesia’s state-owned miner PT Inalum took control of Grasberg, the world’s second-biggest copper mine, in late 2018, though Freeport remains the operator.

The area around the Grasberg mine has suffered outbreaks of violence in recent years with separatists declaring they were “at war” with the police, military and Freeport. There have also been sporadic shootings and ambushes on vehicles traveling on the main supply route to the mine.

Resource-rich Papua, which shares the island of New Guinea with the nation of Papua New Guinea, was a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial U.N.-backed referendum in 1969. The region has since endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Papua stringer; Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson