By Associated Press - Friday, November 9, 2018

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Two Papuan independence fighters and a third person have been killed during a week of gunbattles with security forces in the highlands of Indonesia’s remote Papua region, both sides in the conflict say.

An Indonesian police and military operation is trying to capture Purom Wenda, a West Papua Liberation Army commander who has eluded Indonesia for 15 years but who authorities call a former petty criminal of “low intellectual level.” Villagers have fled into the jungle because of the fighting, which reports say has intensified in highlands districts for several months.

Wenda, in a statement conveyed via an activist on Friday, said two of his fighters were killed in a shootout with police and soldiers in mountainous Lanny Jaya district after his group shot dead a motorbike taxi driver they believed was spying for Indonesian security forces.

The military said the man, a migrant from Sulawesi, was an innocent civilian.

An insurgency has simmered in the formerly Dutch-controlled Papua region since it became part of Indonesia more than half a century ago.

“Our struggle in the jungle has been going for decades,” said Wenda’s statement. “Countless people have died for this struggle. Indonesia said that they have given us special autonomy, infrastructure, and other excuses. We do not want all that. We only want freedom.”

Papua province military spokesman Col. Muhammad Aidi said that Wenda forbade villagers from recovering the body of the man they shot on Saturday in an attempt to set a trap for security forces.

He said police and soldiers using three vehicles recovered the body and exchanged fire with rebels for 30 minutes, later discovering that two were killed and also seizing a significant amount of ammunition.

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