Gunmen attack plane in Indonesia's Papua; no casualties

Gunmen have opened fire on a small commercial plane as it landed in Indonesia's restive province of Papua carrying nine passengers

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- 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 Saturday. No casualties were reported.

The attack occurred Friday in the hilly district of Puncak, a stronghold of separatists who have battled Indonesian rule in the mineral-rich but impoverished region since the early 1960s, said the Indonesian co-pilot, Purwanto Condro Usodo.

Usodo said that he and the Australian pilot, Michael Cumming, were initially unaware of the shooting and managed to land the aircraft safely at Beoga airport from the mining town of Timika until passengers told them that they saw gunmen spray the plane with bullets while landing.

Usodo said in a video obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday from a source in the Indonesian army that about 30 minutes later, the gunmen tried to shoot people who were unloading supplies and luggage from the plane. But the gunmen fled into the jungle after soldiers on the ground returned fire, while the pilots and passengers were evacuated to a security post near the airport.

It was unclear whether any of the gunmen were killed in the shootout, which lasted over three hours, Usodo said.

Military spokesmen did not answer calls seeking comment on the shooting, which happened amid an apparent escalation of attacks since Dec. 1 by the West Papua National Liberation Army, or TPNPB, the military wing of the Free Papua Movement. A declaration of independence from Dutch rule on Dec. 1, 1961, was rejected by the Dutch and later by Indonesia.

A low-level insurgency for independence has simmered in Papua since it was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule in 1963. The region, which makes up the western half of the island of New Guinea, was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 following a U.N.-sponsored ballot that has since been dismissed as a sham.

Indonesian military and police said earlier that three soldiers and a policeman have been killed during recent clashes in Papua, sparking fear among residents of the predominantly Christian region, with the attacks coming just ahead of Christmas.