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JAYAPURA, Papua, Indonesia (September 30, 2002 – Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---Papua Police are questioning 20 witnesses, mostly military personnel, over a deadly ambush against employees of the giant gold mining company PT Freeport Indonesia.

Papua Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comm. Josef Iswanto said on Saturday that 19 military personnel and one civilian were being questioned about the incident that occurred on Aug. 31 that killed two Americans and one Indonesian and injured several others.

Josef said that the witnesses were assumed to have some knowledge about the attackers.

"It is possible that the witnesses can become the suspects," Josef was quoted by Antara as saying.

He added that Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Made Mangku Pastika flew to Jakarta on Friday to report the results of the latest investigation to National Police chief Da'i Bachtiar.

He, however, declined to elaborate on the results thus far, or the identity of a Papuan who was found after the ambush but was determined to have died a day before it transpired. The military claimed he was a rebel and was shot in a gun battle after the ambush, but an autopsy confirmed that the time of death occurred before.

The Indonesian military still maintains that the separatist Free Papua Organization (OPM) is responsible for the attack on August 31 on a mountain road leading to the American-owned copper and gold mine in Tembagapura, but they have yet to provide evidence or motive.

The attackers sprayed the convoy with automatic weapons, which the OPM is not known to possess. The vehicles were transporting Freeport employees, three people were killed, including two Americans, and 12 were injured.

The Papua-based Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (Elsham) last week accused the Army of being behind the deadly ambush. The Army acts as Freeport's security in the province.

Elsham also called on the U.S. government to launch its own probe into the killings, in conjunction with Indonesian authorities.

However, the Army flatly denied the allegations. It is now considering a lawsuit against Elsham if they cannot prove their accusations.



By Telly Nathalia

JAKARTA, Indonesia (September 29, 2002 – Reuters/Kabar-Irian)---Indonesian police have questioned 19 soldiers as witnesses in an investigation into the killing of two American school teachers and an Indonesian last month in rebellious Papua province, police said Sunday.

The only other witness was an indigenous Papuan who police said once worked as a guide for the feared Kopassus special forces and who claimed he knew who carried out the attack.

Separately, one Indonesian security source who declined to be identified said the probe so far indicated Papuan rebels were not behind the ambush -- which the military and some officials have blamed on the separatists or one of their splinter factions.

Papua deputy police chief Rajiman Tarigan told Reuters that the civilian witness, who was not under police protection, was in the general area at the time of the August 31 shooting near the world's largest copper and gold mine, operated by U.S.-based Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold Inc.

Asked if that witness said he knew who did it, Tarigan said: "Yes, that was his information." He declined to give details.

Papua police spokesman Yosep Iswanto said nearly all the witnesses to have been probed were soldiers "because they were assigned in that area. Their duty was to safeguard that area."

The military provides the main security for Freeport's mine, and the killings took place on a road not far from an army post. Iswanto said it was possible that any of the 20 witnesses who had been investigated in the last month could become suspects.

The United States has called the ambush by an estimated 15 gunmen on a convoy of vehicles carrying mainly American schoolteachers and their families an act of terrorism.

Both the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which has been fighting a low-level rebellion for decades in the remote eastern province, and the military have vigorously denied any involvement in one of the worst attacks on foreigners in Indonesia in years.

The security source said the probe indicated OPM had not pulled off the ambush, partly because of the amount of ammunition used. Experts on Papua say the rebels are generally poorly armed.

"If we look at OPM, it's not possible, because from the assault some 200 bullets hit the vehicles," said the source.

Iswanto said the soldiers who had been investigated came from Battalion 515 of the army's strategic reserve. He said about 65 percent of the investigation had been completed.

Some separatist supporters and human rights groups have claimed army elements might have staged the incident to discredit the rebels, charges vehemently denied by the military.

One foreign expert on Papua said the provincial police chief, Made Mangku Pastika, who has previously won praise for attempts to handle Papua's political problems sensitively, was conducting a serious investigation into the killings.

Papuans differ ethnically from most people in the world's most populous Muslim country and are either Christian or animist.

Indonesia's military has a murky reputation, having played a key political role during the rule of former autocrat Suharto, whose downfall in 1998 sparked calls for investigations into allegations of rights abuses carried out by the armed forces.

In a further blow to the military's image, a number of Kopassus special forces troops have been declared suspects in the murder last November of Papua's top independence leader, Theys Hiyo Eluay, who advocated separation through peaceful means.

Papua is one of Indonesia's two separatist hotspots. The other is Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra Island.

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

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