U.S. PRESSES JAKARTA OVER PAPUA MINE ATTACK

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (September 4, 2002 - CNN.com/World/AP/Reuters/ Kabar-Irian)---The United States is pressuring Indonesia to catch those responsible for attacking a convoy of international workers in remote Papua province at the weekend as doubts continue to mount over who was really involved.

The attack, which killed two Americans and an Indonesian national and injured 10 others, was initially blamed on Papuan separatists by Indonesia's military, but that view is now being questioned.

"The attack on these innocent victims, who were mostly school teachers, is an outrageous act of terrorism," the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement Tuesday.

"We urge the government of Indonesia to take all necessary steps swiftly to apprehend and punish the perpetrators of this horrible attack."

The Indonesian government has condemned the attack and said it would do all it could to capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

The Indonesia military is calling for patience, however, citing extreme circumstances hampering the search for the perpetrators.

It has also brushed aside calls for an independent investigation into the attack, which occurred on a road leading to a giant U.S.-owned gold and copper mine.

Papua regional military chief Major General Mahidin Simbolon told Reuters his troops were battling treacherous conditions in the search.

"Bear in mind this is a vast area with thick jungle, not to mention the heavy showers and thick fog which make it difficult to see and slippery," Simbolon said.

Contrasting information

"We're trying our best here and people just need to be patient."

Simbolon also denied news reports that several members of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM) had been arrested.

National Police chief General Da'i Bachtiar told the Jakarta Post newspaper that his men were still evaluating all the evidence and were as yet unable to conclude whether the perpetrators were OPM members.

"We don't know exactly. We are still assessing the situation," Da'i said.

This contrasts with earlier statements from military in Papua, which clearly stated they knew OPM was responsible for the attack.

Indonesia's official Antara news agency on Tuesday quoted military as saying the attack was the work of a splinter group of the OPM headed by Kelly Kwalik.

It also reported that that troops had arrested 15 members of the OPM in relation to the ambush.

Military involvement

"That was Kelly Kwalik's group, " Indonesian Army chief General Ryamizard Ryacudu told Antara, referring to the attack.

Separatist groups have denied involvement in the ambush and asked the Indonesian government to hold an independent inquiry into the situation.

Some experts on the region are suggesting the Indonesian military itself might have been involved.

Australian academic and writer, Dr. Denise Leith, told Radio New Zealand the OPM would get very little benefit from the killings.

She said it was far more likely to have been the military who were involved.

"The military often create incidents to either justify its presence and an increase in military operations in an area or it will threaten foreign companies if they don't behave in a way the military are happy with," Leith said.

'Provocation'

Adding to suspicions is the fact that the convoy was attacked with M-16 automatic weapons and a rocket launcher, not weapons usually associated with the OPM, who are often restricted to using spears and bows and arrows.

The OPM has fought for a separate nation in the predominantly Melanesian Papua since the former Dutch colony of Western New Guinea became part of Indonesia in 1964.

The pacifist pro-independence Papua Presidium Council has also accused the Indonesian military of being behind the ambush.

"It is becoming more and more evident that the Indonesian security forces are involved in creating provocation and instigating violence," the presidium said in a statement released Monday.

"An attack on foreign nationals and on Freeport and consequently blaming the OPM is on the one hand an effort to discredit the OPM as a terrorist organization and on the other hand a warning to Freeport that it cannot operate without the protection of the Indonesian army," it said.

The dead and injured were working for companies contracted to provide services to the Grasberg mine, which employs more than 14,000 people either directly or via contract companies.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

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