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Kopassus accused of Freeport ambush
2 November 2002
United States intelligence agencies have intercepted messages between Indonesian army commanders indicating they were involved in staging an ambush at the remote Freeport-McMoRan mine in which three schoolteachers - two of them Americans - were killed, according to a source close to the US embassy in Jakarta.
As a result of these "indications" of prior awareness of the attack at "higher levels of command", intelligence analysts have been carefully studying records of communications intercepts around the August31 attack to build up a clearer picture, the source said, but it was unclear whether any firmer evidence had been put together.
According to this source, the ambush was to pressure the giant mining company to continue an annual protection payment of more than $US10 million ($18million) to the army command responsible for Papua, the huge and rebellious Indonesian province covering the western half of New Guinea.
Mounting evidence that Indonesian soldiers ran the ambush, whether or not they had higher direction or intended to kill foreigners, is becoming a serious diplomatic embarrassment as the US Administration looks for ways to help improve security in Indonesia after the October 12 Bali bombings.
The source believes US officials are deeply worried that such intelligence material, plus the results of a three-week investigation at the Freeport-McMoRan mine township at Timika by four FBI agents, could cut across the wider thrust of current US policy to reopen links with Indonesia's violence-tainted military.
"They know the killing of the two Americans was initiated by Kopassus [the Indonesian army's special forces] but they sit on the information because it hurts their larger interests," the source said.
The three victims were among a group of 10 teachers from the company-sponsored school in Tembagapura for children of employees who were travelling in two vehicles outside the town when they were ambushed.
Several reports citing senior military and intelligence sources say Indonesian police have already zeroed in on army soldiers as the chief suspects.
However, the head of the Papuan police force, General I Made Pastika - who has been switched to head the Bali bombing investigation - this week would only say it was "one of the possibilities".
Indonesian defence headquarters sent its military police commander, Major-General Sulaiman, to Papua a week ago to confer with police about the case. But this Thursday, the armed forces commander, General Endriartono Sutarto, denied hearing from any source that army personnel were involved.
A separate case, the killing of the Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay nearly a year ago, has led to murder charges against 10 Kopassus and other personnel, including a lieutenant-colonel.
According to the new source, the Timika incident arose from a breakdown in the regular flow of funds to the military from the mine, part of a network of unofficial revenues that account for about two-thirds of the Indonesian armed forces' actual operating budget.
The company, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc of New Orleans, had been finding it more difficult to account for the protection pay-off in the climate of tighter auditing scrutiny in the US following several financial scandals.
As well as paying the costs of troops stationed around the mining township at Timika and the mine itself high above on Grasberg mountain, the source said Freeport had been making the large cash payment to the Cendrawasih (Bird of Paradise) Kodam or regional command in the provincial capital Jayapura. On many years, around the time the payment was due, the military had staged riots and other incidents attributed to Papuan separatists to remind the company of security dangers that could arise.
"This year was different because of the pressure for corporate transparency," the source said. "It's not as easy as two years ago to spend $US10 million or $US11 million without it showing up in the books."
The "indications" of higher-level involvement would have come from intercepts made by the US National Security Agency or Australia's Defence Signals Directorate. They allegedly include references showing knowledge that an "incident" would be staged at the Freeport facilities.
Two other sources among Western military experts here said they were not aware of any specific intelligence pointing to who was responsible for the attack.
Nonetheless, both these defence experts believed the ambush was conducted by Indonesian soldiers, whether from Kopassus or an infantry batallion stationed in Papua.