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Indonesian NGOs Accuse US of Murder Cover-Up - 2004-08-04

The United States government has been accused of a cover-up regarding the murder of two American teachers in the restive Indonesian province of Papua almost two years ago. The question of who killed the teachers has a strong bearing on whether the United States resumes military cooperation with Indonesia.

An investigation by the FBI that ended in June concluded that Papuan separatists were responsible for the murders. The investigators said the gunmen were led by a known separatist, Anthon Wamang, who the Justice Department describes as a terrorist.

On Wednesday, three Papua-based human rights organizations accused U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department of suppressing evidence that suggested the real group behind the killings was the Indonesian army.

The affiliation of the killers is crucial to the question of military cooperation between the United States and Indonesia. Direct U.S. aid to the Indonesian military was suspended after its soldiers carried out a campaign of human rights abuses in East Timor five years ago.

The Bush administration is eager to renew military aid to Indonesia, which is considers an ally in the War on Terrorism. But the U.S. Congress has made such aid contingent on a thorough and impartial investigation of the Papua murders.

The human rights groups charged that the Justice Department suppressed evidence in it possession that pointed at the Indonesian army.

John Rumbiak is the spokesman for the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy, one of the three human rights groups.

"We believe that even though this evidence are already in the hands of John Ashcroft and Justice Department, but they don't want to release them because they don't want to offend the Indonesian authorities because they want to maintain a good relationship for the sake of war on terror," said John Rumbiak, the spokesman for the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy, one of the three human rights groups.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta declined Wednesday to comment on the allegations of a U.S. cover-up.

The teachers were working at a gold mine owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, a New Orleans-based company. They were killed in an ambush in mid-2002 as they returned from a picnic, and an initial police investigation suggested that the army might have been responsible. The army denies that any of its members was involved.

The activist groups agree that Mr. Wamang, the alleged murderer, had once been a member of a separatist group. But they say they gave the FBI evidence that at the time of the shootings, he was cooperating with the military, and that members of the armed forces sold him the ammunition used in the attack.

The groups called on the FBI to release all information in its possession, and asked Congress to delay renewing aid until it had a fuller account of the case.