Jakarta, Indonesia - Separatist rebels in Indonesia's Papua region claimed Sunday to have killed nine army personnel the day before, after Jakarta did not respond to a request for negotiations, while the military said one soldier died during the attack Saturday.
Indonesian military spokesperson Julius Widjojono said Sunday other soldiers were dispersed to several sites in the search for captured Susi Air pilot, Phillip Mehrtens, and they were having communication difficulties due to bad weather.
'As of 2:03 p.m. local time (0503 GMT) the information we have is one died. We have not received any other information because it is difficult to reach the area, especially with the uncertain weather,' Widjojono said when asked about the higher casualty numbers.
Widjojono said the military will intensify the operation to rescue Mehrtens as they have identified the pilot's location.
Erratic weather has made the effort challenging, he said.
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) abducted the New Zealand pilot in February. The group initially demanded Jakarta recognize the area's independence but told Reuters this month they were prepared to drop that demand and seek a dialogue.
'We asked the Indonesian and New Zealand governments to free the hostages through peaceful negotiations,' rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom said in a recorded message Sunday.
'But the Indonesian military and police attacked civilians on March 23. Because of that the TPNPB troops said they would take revenge and it had already started,' Sambom said, adding that fighting continued Sunday.
A military spokesperson in Papua, Herman Taryaman, denied the allegation of a March attack on civilians, saying the security forces were protecting civilians who were chased away by the rebels.
A low-level battle for independence from Indonesia has been going on for decades in the remote and resource-rich Papua region, with the conflict intensifying significantly in recent years, analysts say.
The conflict began after a controversial 1969 vote supervised by the United Nations saw the former Dutch territory brought under Indonesian control.