Military: Rebel killed in gunbattle with Indonesian troops

Indonesia's military says a Papuan rebel was killed and a soldier injured in a gunbattle in the country's troubled easternmost region

JAYAPURA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's military said a Papuan rebel was killed and a soldier injured in a gunbattle Wednesday, the latest spasm of violence to hit the country's troubled easternmost region.

Papua province military spokesman Col. Muhammad Aidi said separatist fighters ambushed soldiers on a logistics mission to Sinak Airport in the mountainous Puncak Jaya district.

He said the rebels fled into the jungle after being repulsed and one was found dead with the Morning Star flag that's a symbol of the Papuan independence struggle by soldiers combing the area.

A soldier who suffered gunshot wounds to a leg was evacuated to the mining town of Timika. The dead man, who carried no identification, was handed over to a village chief for burial, Aidi said.

Separatist fighters in early December killed 19 people working on the trans-Papua highway that's a key part of President Joko Widodo's efforts to develop the region.

The West Papua National Liberation Army has said that Dec. 2, which was the date of the attack on construction workers, was the start of a war against "colonial" Indonesia that won't cease until there is international intervention and recognition of independence.

Separately on Wednesday, Indonesia's foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, said in her annual speech on foreign policy that the country "will not retreat even an inch" in defending its sovereignty.

Separatist violence against civilians must be punished but the conflict wouldn't dampen the Indonesian government's commitment to improving the welfare of Papuans, she said.

An independence movement and low level insurgency has simmered in the Papua region since the early 1960s when Indonesia took control of the former Dutch territory. Indonesian control was formalized in 1969 with a referendum known as the "Act of Free Choice" held in an atmosphere of heavy intimidation in which only 1,026 Papuans were allowed to vote.

Nowadays, indigenous Papuans, largely shut out of their region's economy, are poorer, sicker and more likely to die young than people elsewhere in Indonesia.