By Agustinus Beo Da Costa
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's military is ready to take tough measures, if needed, to combat separatists who, it said, were holding civilian hostages in villages in the eastern province of Papua, but will pursue dialogue first.
Police on Thursday said an armed separatist group linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) was preventing more than 1,000 people in five villages from leaving an area near the giant Grasberg mine operated by a unit of Freeport McMoRan Inc.
"The Indonesian military will carry out a persuasive approach through negotiations, so that there are no victims," military chief Gatot Nurmantyo said on Friday.
"We are also preparing 'hard' measures and need to do this very carefully," he said in a statement, adding that the military was working with the police on the matter.
Tough measures would be a last resort if negotiations with the group failed to resolve the issue, Papua military commander George Enaldus Supit said later, clarifying the statement.
The measures could include armed conflict, he told Reuters, "but we will prioritize dialogue."
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)