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Indonesia Continues Search for Killer of Workers at US-Owned Mine - 2002-09-03

Indonesian troops continue to hunt for gunmen who killed two Americans and one Indonesian working for a U.S.-owned mine in Papua province. The government dismisses allegations that the military may have been involved in the attack. Military officials say the rugged, mountainous jungle complicates the hunt for the gunmen. Two Americans and one Indonesian were killed Saturday when gunmen ambushed a convoy of cars as it approached Tembagapura, the town nearest the U.S.-owned Freeport McMoRan copper and gold mine. Several other passengers were injured.

Indonesian troops exchanged gunfire with armed men in the area the following day killing one. Officials say those gunmen are linked to the attack and it is likely they are from the Free Papua Movement,` which has been fighting for Papua's independence from Indonesia since the 1960s.

Human rights activists in Papua disagree. They say witnesses report seeing Indonesian soldiers in the area around the time of the attack. Other witnesses say security forces were nearby at the time but failed to intervene.

Some rights activists suggest the government may want to portray the Papuan insurgents as terrorists, to pressure the United States to resume ties with the Indonesian military. Washington suspended military contact in 1999 because of human rights concerns.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa calls that suggestion "preposterous."

"We have a situation over the weekend of not only American nationals, other nationals, but our own nationals being shot at by an armed group," he said. "We are trying to apprehend these people and to bring them to justice. To suggest that we are, somehow the Indonesian government is behind it, is really too much."

Mr. Natalegawa says the government wants to limit concerns that the incident was intended to scare away investors. "As a government we are determined to ensure that this act does not have that consequence," he said. "Our effort and our focus now is on the quick arrest of those who have committed this act." Freeport McMoRan and British Petroleum which also is developing a project in Papua say the incident has not affected their operations.

The rights group Amnesty International Tuesday called on the Indonesian government not to use the attack to justify an indiscriminate crackdown to catch the perpetrators. Formerly known as Irian Jaya, Papua is home to some of the world's largest gold and copper reserves as well as natural gas, and forests, making it attractive to foreign investors. But guerrilla separatists have waged a low-intensity campaign for independence since 1969, when the province was integrated with Indonesia.