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Indonesia says 3 troops missing since rebel ambush found dead

Indonesia says 3 troops missing since rebel ambush found dead
New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens has been held captive by rebels in Indonesia's Papua region for more than a month.
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube

JAKARTA - Indonesia's military confirmed on Wednesday (April 19) that three soldiers missing since a weekend ambush by rebels in the restive Papua region have been found dead, in a setback for its mission to locate a New Zealand pilot held captive by separatists.

The military said the bodies of those soldiers and another earlier confirmed dead had been airlifted from the area. Five wounded troops who were found the previous day had also been evacuated.

Indonesia's military chief on Tuesday dismissed a claim by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) that 15 troops were killed in the attack on a group of 36 soldiers searching for where Susi Air pilot Philip Mehrtens was being held.

"Currently the four soldiers who died have been evacuated," a military spokesperson in Papua, Herman Taryaman said in the statement.

The abduction in February of Mehrtens has intensified conflict between rebels and Indonesia's security forces in the remote, resource-rich region, which came under Indonesian control after a 1969 referendum that followed the end of Dutch colonial rule.

TPNPB on Wednesday said it had pictures and video evidence to show its version of Saturday's events was accurate. Spokesperson Sebby Sambom said those images would be later shared as proof.

The rebels say they attacked the soldiers because Indonesia had not responded to its request for peaceful negotiations.

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