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Autopsy casts doubt on rebel role in ambush

©Washington Post
September 15, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- An autopsy on the body of a key suspect in the killing of two Americans and an Indonesian in the eastern province of Papua has raised doubts about whether separatist rebels were involved in the incident, as the Indonesian military has alleged.

To support their claim that separatists were behind the Aug. 31 killings, military commanders have said that soldiers shot dead a suspected rebel in a firefight near the site of the ambush, on a road leading to the Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine, where the victims worked.

But the regional police chief, I. Made Pastika, who is exploring the possible role of soldiers in the killings, said in an interview Saturday that an autopsy has determined that the suspect suffered from chronic, massive enlargement of the testicles. The condition could have made it difficult for him to engage in guerrilla activities, including traversing the rugged mountain terrain surrounding the mine.

An examination of the body also concluded that the man was killed about 24 hours before the soldiers said they shot him, a discrepancy that Pastika said concerns him.

Pastika said, however, that it was premature to conclude whether soldiers, separatists or disgruntled tribesmen were behind the attack, in which gunmen stopped a convoy of two Toyota Land Cruisers and three other vehicles on a foggy road near the mine.

The vehicles were raked with gunfire from barely a dozen feet away.

"We cannot tell you all about the discrepancy. We are still working on it," he said, adding, "For the time being, we have to believe (the army) until we come up with other facts."

Pastika has said he is examining the possibility that soldiers might have orchestrated the attack in an effort to extort money and other concessions from the Freeport facility, the world's largest gold and copper mine, and other multinational corporations in Papua.

If proved, the involvement of soldiers in the ambush could hamstring efforts by the Bush administration to restore military ties with Indonesia, suspended in 1999 to protest the army's role in organizing widespread militia violence in East Timor.

The military and Freeport officials have blamed the attack on the Free Papua Movement, whose long-running independence campaign has been marked by sporadic, low-level violence, but never before involved killing Westerners.

The senior military commander in Papua, Maj. Gen. Mahidin Simbolon, has said that soldiers played no role in the ambush.

The suspect's body was recovered Sept. 1. His tribal affiliation has not yet been determined, and his body was buried last week, Pastika said.

Pastika's determination to investigate possible army involvement and other theories has put him at odds with Indonesia's powerful military. The army has long played a highly influential role in Papua, providing security for Freeport operations in return for lucrative compensation.

Recently, Simbolon, the military commander in Papua, has vowed to crush the separatist campaign, raising concerns among human rights and community groups that advocate a peaceful settlement of the dispute.

In a report issued Friday examining the Papua conflict, the International Crisis Group warned that violence could escalate if the military pursues a hard-line approach.

The report calls on the Indonesian government to rely on police rather than soldiers in responding to local disturbances.

The report also urges international companies to minimize the role of the police and military in guarding commercial activities, and instead to improve cooperation with local communities in Papua.

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