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Papua: At least one killed in hunt for kidnapped NZ pilot Philip Mehrtens

At least one Indonesian soldier has been killed in a rebel attack while searching for a kidnapped New Zealand pilot in the Papua region, officials say.

Rebels later claimed nine soldiers were shot dead in the clash, while the Associated Press cited military sources that put the death toll at six.

The troops were part of a detachment sent to locate Phillip Mehrtens, who was taken hostage in February.

Papua rebels have been seeking independence from Jakarta for decades.

The Indonesian troops were attacked on Sunday while searching for Mr Mehrtens near a separatist stronghold in the mountainous Nduga district, the military said.

Gunmen shot a soldier who fell into a 15m-deep ravine, then launched a second attack while troops were recovering the body, First Admiral Julius Widjojono told reporters.

"The condition of the other soldiers who are spread in several locations is still unknown," he added.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was launched to deter military efforts to rescue Mr Mehrtens.

"The United Nations and the New Zealand government have an obligation to push Indonesia to stop the military operation," rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom said in a statement.


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