Indonesia Military Allegedly Talked Of Targeting Mine
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 3, 2002
Indonesia Military Allegedly Talked Of Targeting Mine
By Ellen Nakashima and Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Nov. 2 -- Senior Indonesian military officials discussed an
operation against Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. before an ambush near its
mine in Papua province that killed two Americans and one Indonesian on Aug. 31,
according to intelligence obtained by the United States, a U.S. government
official and other sources said.
The discussions involved the top ranks of Indonesia's military, including
Endriartono Sutarto, the influential commander in chief, and were aimed at
discrediting a Papuan separatist group, the Free Papua Movement, said the U.S.
government official and another American source. A spokesman for Sutarto denied
the discussions occurred.
The attack took place near a mine operated by New Orleans-based Freeport; the
three victims were contract employees.
The intelligence was based on information supplied after the ambush by a person
who claimed to be knowledgeable about the high-level military conversations. The
source was described in the report as "highly reliable." This information was
supported by an intercept of a conversation including that individual, said the
U.S. government official and the American source. The intercept was shared with
the United States by another country, identified by a Western source as
The discussions described in the intelligence report did not detail a specific
attack, nor did they call explicitly for the killing of Americans or other
foreigners, but they clearly targeted Freeport, the U.S. official and the
American source said. Subordinates could have understood the discussions as a
direction "to take some kind of violent action against Freeport," the government
official said. It could not be learned precisely when the discussions took
The intelligence report was provided to the State Department about two weeks
after the ambush, the official said.
If confirmed, evidence of Indonesian military involvement could seriously impair
Bush administration efforts to restore U.S. assistance to the Indonesian
military, suspended in 1999 to protest the involvement of the armed forces in
human rights atrocities in East Timor. Such evidence would also represent a
setback to a key U.S. foreign policy goal in Southeast Asia of engaging the
Indonesian military, known by the initials TNI, in the campaign against
Maj. Gen. Syafrie Syamsuddin, an armed forces spokesman, said today that top
officers had never discussed an operation targeting Freeport. He said Sutarto is
a disciplined officer who would not become involved in activities that violate
the strict rules and ethics of the Indonesian military.
Syamsuddin also said top officers do not get involved in "technical matters"
such as planning specific attacks and ambushes. He added that to ambush Freeport
employees as a way of discrediting the separatist group would be "illogical."
"This is probably something made up to discredit the TNI," he said. Asked who
might have sought to tarnish the army, Syamsuddin said he did not know.
Sutarto said last week that no Indonesian military officers were involved in the
attack, which took place in Indonesia's easternmost province, on a misty
mountain slope near the world's largest gold and copper mine.
His comments came after Papua police investigators told the commanders of
military intelligence and military police that they believed Indonesian soldiers
likely were behind the attack, according to senior military and intelligence
The U.S. government official today confirmed that the FBI briefed State
Department and embassy officials about three weeks ago on the bureau's own
investigation of the attack. FBI investigators have visited Papua as part of the
"The indications have pointed in that direction [of the military] but are not
conclusive," the official said. The FBI is still interviewing witnesses,
Freeport contract employees and their family members who have returned to the
United States, he said.
The intelligence report, completed separately from the FBI investigation,
indicated the military was "thinking or contemplating some kind of measure to
accomplish the goal" of prodding the United States to declare the Free Papua
Movement (OPM) a terrorist group, the official said.
The OPM is a loose organization of Papuan rebels waging a long-running
independence struggle marked by sporadic, low-level violence. The military's
claims that the separatists carried out the Aug. 31 attack have been met with
skepticism from some analysts, who said it was not OPM practice to target
foreigners or to use automatic weapons. The ambush was carried out with assault
rifles, which the attackers used to spray two vehicles with bullets, killing
three teachers and wounding 12 people, mostly Americans.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to
Indonesia and the administration's senior Indonesia expert, said Friday that it
was "very disturbing" the military might be involved. "We take it very
seriously," he said. "And if it's true, I think it's extremely important for the
government to get to the bottom of it."
But that is not a reason to resist reestablishing ties with the Indonesian
military, he argued. Giving the military "more contact with the West and with
the United States and moving them in a positive direction is important both to
support democracy in Indonesia and to support the fight against terrorism," he
said. "Unfortunately, we've been isolating them for a decade. It's not a policy
Wolfowitz was not asked in the interview about the intelligence report.
A State Department spokeswoman said the department did not comment on
Critics of renewed military aid for Indonesia expressed concern. "These
revelations should trigger a complete and public congressional investigation,"
said Mike Jendrzejczk, director of Human Rights Watch/Asia. "This should also
take up the question of the U.S.-Indonesia military relationship generally. But
the focus has got to be on getting to the bottom
of these allegations."
On Friday, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations
foreign operations subcommittee, said that if the Indonesian military was found
to have planned the killings, then the administration's proposed military
training aid, $400,000 for fiscal 2003, should not go forward.
"It should surprise no one that the Indonesian army may have been involved in
this atrocity," he said. "It has a long history of human rights violations and
obstruction of justice. The fact that the perpetrators apparently believed they
could murder Americans without fear of being punished illustrates the extent of
Freeport's vice president of corporate communications, William Collier, said the
company could not comment on an ongoing investigation. "We hope that the
perpetrators will be brought to justice, whoever they may be," he said.
Regional analysts and sources familiar with the investigation said the military
had been troubled by Freeport's practice beginning in 1996 of providing 1
percent of the Papua operation's gross revenue to the local community for
development projects. Military officials have repeatedly expressed concern that
a portion of that money is being diverted to the separatists.
About one week after the shooting, a police official, an army general and a
high-ranking official from the office of the coordinating minister for security
flew to Papua to speak to Freeport officials about what they believed to be
Freeport's financing of a trip to Australia by pro-independence Papuans, said a
source familiar with the investigation. The delegation was not convinced by
assurances that Freeport had not financed the trip, the source said. Collier
said today that Freeport money does not go to OPM. "We're not financing the
separatist movement in any way," he said. "It's just not true."
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