- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia Gunmen armed with automatic weapons ambushed a convoy headed to a huge gold mine run by a U.S. corporation, killing two Americans and an Indonesian in an unprecedented attack yesterday in Indonesia's troubled Papua province.
At least 10 others, including six Americans, were wounded in the attack near the world's largest gold mine, the bloodiest incident involving foreigners in almost four decades of intermittent warfare between government forces and separatist rebels.
The convoy of cars was headed from the town of Timika to the Grasberg mine, an immense open-pit dig that for many Papuans is a symbol of unwanted Indonesian rule.
The mine's operator PT Freeport Indonesia, an affiliate of New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper-and-Gold Inc. has long been criticized by human rights advocates for purportedly cooperating with Indonesian security forces in suppressing pro-independence activities. Freeport denies any human rights abuses.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, though Papua police chief Brig. Gen. I Made Pastika said it was likely the separatist Free Papua Movement was involved.
A police statement identified the dead as Ted Burcon and Rickey Spear, both Americans, and Bambang Riwanto, an Indonesian. The Americans were teachers working at a school at the mine, said Maj. Gen. Mahidin Simbolon, the regional military chief. Their hometowns were not released.
In Washington, Brenda Greenberg, a State Department spokeswoman, said that in addition to the two dead Americans, seven U.S. citizens were wounded in the hail of automatic gunfire.
A Muslim militant group, Laskar Jihad blamed for the deaths of thousands of Christians in trouble spots elsewhere in Indonesia has operations in Papua.
But the vast majority of violence in the territory springs from the separatist campaign and the government's efforts to repress it.
The attack is likely to hinder work at Grasberg, said to be the world's most profitable mining operation. Another U.S. company, energy giant ExxonMobil, was forced to temporarily cease production of natural gas at its plant in Aceh, on Indonesia's western end, when it came under attack from separatists there.
The latest killings will likely further hurt Indonesia's ability to attract foreign investment, which has already plunged because of political instability and endemic corruption.
Papua, 2,300 miles east of Jakarta, was occupied by Indonesian forces when the Dutch colonial administration withdrew in 1963. The move sparked immediate resistance from a ragtag band of Papuan nationalists who have kept up a low-level insurgency ever since.
Indonesia formally acquired the vast territory in 1969 after a U.N.-sanctioned "Act of Free Choice" in which about 1,000 tribal chiefs and elders hand-picked by the secret police expressed their desire to unite with Indonesia.
Many Papuans see themselves as being under a form of colonial rule, and leading politicians have appealed to the United Nations to organize an independence referendum, akin to that in East Timor in 1999.
But the campaign faltered after last year's assassination of Theys Eluay a leading pro-independence politician. Prosecutors have named 10 members of Indonesia's elite, U.S.-trained special forces as suspects in the slaying.
Freeport first sought to obtain the rights to the Grasberg mine from the Dutch in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The deal initially fell through when Indonesia seized the province, but was resurrected after a bloody military takeover in Jakarta in 1966 in which more than 500,000 people died.

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