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Indonesia says 1 Soldier Killed in Papua Clash

Indonesian soldiers carry the coffins of their colleagues who were killed in a clash with separatist rebels in Papua province upon arrival at Juanda airport in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, April 11, 2006.

Indonesia's military said Monday that one solider has been killed in an ongoing clash between security forces and Papuan independence fighters near the U.S.-owned Grasberg copper mine in the country's east.

Military spokesman Col. Muhammad Aidi said the soldier was shot in the head and died Sunday afternoon.

He said that a joint military and police force was hunting an "armed separatist criminal group.''

Aidi denied a purported statement from the National Liberation Army of West Papua that numerous Indonesian soldiers were killed in the clashes and a 10-year-old boy had died in a fire caused by the Indonesian attack.

The liberation army said one of its fighters was killed.

Aidi said the dead Indonesian soldier's body has yet to be evacuated due to bad weather and difficult terrain in the mountainous area.

An insurgency has simmered in Papua since the early 1960s when Indonesia annexed the region that had remained under Dutch control following Indonesian independence nearly two decades earlier.

Attacks by rebels near the Grasberg mine have spiked in the past year after liberation army figures declared the area a war zone.

The Grasberg mine's vast gold and copper reserves have been exploited for decades by the U.S. mining company Freeport, damaging the surrounding environment while providing significant tax income for the Indonesian government.

But indigenous Papuans have benefited little and are poorer, sicker and more likely to die young than people elsewhere in Indonesia.