The authorities are trying to capture Purom Wenda, a West Papua Liberation Army commander who they say is a petty criminal that formed a radical separatist group.
The authorities said Wenda had a “low intellectual level”.
Wenda claimed two of his men were killed in a shootout after his group shot dead a motorbike taxi driver they believed was spying for the government.
The military said the migrant from Sulawesi was an innocent villager.
“Our struggle in the jungle has been going for decades,” said Wenda in a smuggled 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’s military spokesman Colonel Muhammad Aidi said Wenda prevented villagers from recovering the body of the man they shot last Saturday in an attempt to set a trap for the authorities.
He said troops recovered the corpse and exchanged fire with the insurgents for around 30 minutes, killing two and seizing a significant stash of ammunition.
Aidi denied that Indonesia was amassing troops in Papua’s highlands, saying it was just a routine rotation of personnel.
Humanitarian concerns are growing for Papuans caught in the crossfire.
There have been a series of gun battles in the highland regencies of Puncak Jaya, Nduga, Timika and Lanny Jaya.
A Red Cross representative in Papua Nelson Wonda said many traumatised highland villagers had been displaced by fighting and were living in the forests without sufficient food.
The NGO said seven Papuans were killed in Puncak Jaya in October by the military although the authorities put the number at five.
Wonda said troops killed villagers’ pigs and burned down their houses while the Red Cross had erected 60 tents for homeless Papuans.
The military claims the insurgents burned down hospitals and schools in the Banti Kompleks and 15 teachers and medics were held hostages in Nduga for two weeks in October amid allegations of rape.
Akouboo Amatus Douw, an Australia-based spokesman for the liberation army, denied allegations of hostage-taking and rape.
Many areas of Indonesian Papua have had limited contact with the outside world. Picture credit: Wikimedia