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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Armed separatists shot dead an Indonesian soldier on Monday during a gunfight at a market place in the remote easternmost province of Papua, a military spokesman said.

Papua has suffered a simmering separatist conflict since it was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised U.N.-backed referendum in 1969 and remains one of the poorest regions in Indonesia.

"Five members of the separatist criminal group, armed with pistols and machetes, attacked members of the Indonesian military," Papua military spokesman Muhammad Aidi said in a statement received by text message.

One soldier was killed in the attack at a market in Sinak, Puncak Jaya regency, it said.

Rights groups have urged Jakarta to end rights violations and improve media access to the area, where a group linked to the Free Papua Movement recently targeted mining operations of Freeport McMoRan Inc.

Members of Indonesia's security forces have been accused by rights activists of abducting and torturing Papuans and using deadly force to quell protests.

(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie)

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Reuters