Army helicopter with 12 aboard missing in Indonesia’s Papua

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian military helicopter carrying 12 people went missing Friday in the country’s troubled easternmost province of Papua.

Papua military spokesman Muhammad Aidi said the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter lost contact five minutes after taking off from Oksibil, the capital of the mountainous district of Pegunungan Bintang. It was traveling to the provincial capital, Jayapura.

He said the army helicopter was taking troops and supplies to a border post in Okbibab near Papua New Guinea and had refueled at Oksibil before it was reported missing by the control tower at an altitude of 7,800 feet (2,400 meters).

The aircraft was carrying 12 military personnel, including five border security forces.

Rescue teams from the army and local search and rescue agency were searching on the ground for the aircraft.

Flying is the only practical way of accessing many areas in the mountainous and jungle-clad easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Military helicopters have recently become a target of separatist group in the region.

Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea, was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. A small, poorly armed separatist group has been battling for independence since then.

The low-level insurgency has plagued the mineral-rich region, which is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia.

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