Separatist gunmen attacked Indonesian army troops who were deployed to rescue a New Zealand pilot taken hostage by the rebels in Indonesia’s restive Papua province, leaving at least six dead and about 30 missing, officials said Sunday. Initial information from army reports said there were about 36 soldiers at a post in the hilly district of Nduga, when attackers from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, opened fire on Saturday. At least six died and 21 others fled into the jungle, according to the military reports seen by journalists. A military spokesman confirmed only one dead. Nine soldiers were reportedly being held by the rebels. Papua military spokesperson Col. Herman Taryaman said the soldiers were part of a group that was searching for Phillip Mark Mehrtens, a New Zealand pilot for the Indonesian aviation company Susi Air who was abducted by the rebels in February. He said authorities were searching for about 30 soldiers. “It’s still unknown exactly how many Indonesian army troops died and were injured,” Taryaman said. “We are still searching, but heavy rain, foggy weather and a lack of communication have hampered our search and evacuation efforts.” First Adm. Julius Widjojono, the spokesperson for the Indonesian National Armed Forces, or TNI, told a news conference in the capital, Jakarta, that the search operation will be carried out “with maximum force.” He said the rebels confronted troops when they tried to comb an area close to the position of the pilot and his abductors. The rebels shot a soldier who fell into a 15-meter (49-foot) deep ravine, and launched a second attack while troops were getting his body out, Widjojono said. He confirmed only one fatality so far. Rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom said in a statement that the group’s fighters carried out the attack in revenge for the killing of two rebels in a shootout with Indonesian security forces last month. He said at least nine members of Indonesia’s elite army force were killed in Saturday’s attack. Sambom urged Indonesia’s government to stop its military operations in Papua. He also said his group had offered to negotiate with both the Indonesian and New Zealand governments for the pilot they took hostage, but said they had not received a response. “Indonesia’s government must stop its security operation in Papua and be willing to negotiate with our leaders under the mediation of a neutral third party from a United Nations agency,” Sambom said. Widjojono said the military operations in Papua were launched with a view to avoid a large number of casualties.