Student protest for West Papuan independence in 2013 (Photo by AFP)

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (11:15) – A group of armed separatists from the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka/OPM) have seized control of two villages near a massive US-operated copper mine in the Papua province on Friday, according to Indonesian police sources.

Around 1,300 residents have reportedly been taken hostage by the insurgents, but nobody has been harmed so far. The Indonesian army has deployed around 700 heavily armed troops to the area.

“For now we are prioritizing pre-emptive and preventive measures. We still have not forced our way in because we don’t want the villagers to be victimized,” local police chief Victor Dean Macbon told AFP in an interview.

The villages lie near a mine operated by US corporation Freeport-McMoRan, which has been the scene of a string of recent shootings between Indonesian police forces and independence fighters.

The Free Papua Movement has waged an insurgency against Jakarta ever since the forcible occupation of West Papua by Indonesia in the 1960s. The Freeport-McMoRan copper mine has often been the scene of conflict as it is a symbol for the independence and greater control over the region’s natural resources that the insurgents desire.
Indonesia has long kept West Papua in an iron grip, with heavy police and military crackdowns on independence activists.

So far, the Free Papua Movement has not openly issued any demands to the Indonesian government or the mining company.

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