JAYAPURA, INDONESIA - Indonesian security forces Saturday recovered the bodies of four construction workers who were killed in a separatist attack in the restive province of West Papua, police said.
The four men were killed late Thursday when gunmen stormed a government road construction project in remote Meyarga village in Bintuni Bay district, said West Papua Police spokesperson Adam Erwindi.
Five other workers fled to a nearby military post, including one who was injured in the attack, while three others hid in the jungle. The only female worker managed to escape and remains missing, Erwindi said.
He said that the bodies had been guarded by the gunmen until security forces found them on Saturday. Two of the remains were charred near two heavy equipment and three trucks that were set on fire by the attackers, and the two others had gunshot and stab wounds, Erwindi said.
'We believe this attack was launched by the armed separatist criminal group amid intensified efforts by the government,' Erwindi said. He said police and the military were searching for the attackers, who authorities believe belonged to the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization.
The victims were among dozens of construction workers employed by a local construction company to build roads connecting the districts of Bintuni Bay and Maybrat.
Rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambon confirmed the group's fighters carried out Thursday's attack. He said the group had warned all workers to leave Indonesian government projects, or they would be considered part of security forces.
'We don't want the construction by the colonizers, we can do it ourselves if we are given independence,' Sambom said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Saturday. 'The West Papua Liberation Army is responsible for this attack.'
He said the workers are considered outsiders by the separatists and were part of Indonesian intelligence.
Indonesia's government, which for decades has had a policy of sending Javanese and other Indonesians to settle in Papua, is trying to spur economic development to dampen the separatist movement.
Papua is a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.
In March, rebel gunmen killed eight technicians repairing a remote telecommunications tower. In December 2018, at least 31 construction workers and a soldier were killed in one of the worst attacks in the province.
Attacks have spiked in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.