Gunmen opened fire on a small commercial plane as it landed in Indonesia’s restive province of Papua carrying nine passengers, one of the plane’s pilots said on Saturday. No casualties were reported.
The attack occurred on Friday in the hilly district of Puncak, said the Indonesian co-pilot, Purwanto Condro Usodo. Puncak is rich in mineral deposits and is also a stronghold of separatists that have battled the Indonesian government since the 1960s. The Indonesian co-pilot Purwanto Condro Usodo and the Australian pilot Michael Cumming were unaware of the gunmen and were even ignorant of the fact that they were shot at until they landed safely. After landing, the passengers informed them that they had seen gunmen shoot at the plane from below. The plane landed at Beoga airport near the mining town of Timika.
According to locals, around 30 minutes after the incident, gunmen had tried to shoot at people who were unloading cargo and supplies but were intercepted by soldiers on the ground who returned fire, forcing the gunmen to retreat back into the jungle. The shootout is believed to have lasted for 3 hours.
The gunmen are believed to have been part of the West Papua National Liberation Army, or TPNPB, the military wing of the Free Papua Movement. The TPNPB has been escalating its attacks since December 1. West Papua sent a declaration of independence on December 1, 1961, but it was immediately rejected by the Dutch and Indonesia. Papua was handed over to Indonesia in 1963 by the Dutch and a low-level insurgency has existed there since then.
In a similar attack, three soldiers and a policeman were killed in clashes with gunmen. With Christmas just round the corner, the area of Papua which is predominantly Christian is on the edge due to the attacks.