- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian authorities found the body of a policeman near the operations of U.S. mining conglomerate Freeport Monday, raising the death toll from a series of weekend ambushes to three, officials and state media said.

A 29-year-old Australian mining expert and a security guard also were killed and seven others wounded in three weekend shootings within a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) radius near the Grasberg mining complex in the restive Papua province, police said.

It is the worst violence in the militarized zone since two American school teachers and an Indonesian colleague were murdered in 2002.

Indonesian authorities have blamed Papuan separatists, but police say they recovered military-grade bullet casings from the scene, casting doubt on claims that the rebels were responsible.

The policeman, who had been reported missing Sunday, was found dead in a ravine Monday, the Antara state news agency reported, citing unnamed sources. The police’s paramilitary unit, known as the mobile brigade, called in reinforcements to join the hunt for the perpetrators, Papua police spokesman Lt. Col. Nurhabri said Monday.

“We have sent a group of mobile brigade police into the jungle,” he said. They have “not found anything yet and the search is continuing,” adding that it was extremely rough terrain.

Extra police forces were also deployed around the perimeter of Freeport’s Grasberg mine, he said, but he declined to give numbers.

The escalation of tension in Papua, a highly militarized zone on the western half of New Guinea island, is an unwelcome development for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was re-elected just last week to a second five-year-term. It also raised questions about a possible resurgence of Papua’s secessionist movement, which until recent months had shown few signs of life.

Yorris Raweyai, a Papuan lawmaker in the national parliament, dismissed claims that the separatist movement, known by its Indonesian acronym OPM, was responsible for the deaths.

“We know the OPM has been labeled as a troublemaker in Papua for four decades,” he said. “But we also know that they have no guns and fight for their struggle peacefully.”

No arrests have been made in connection with the ambushes despite a massive security operation, police said.

The rebels see PT Freeport as a symbol of Jakarta’s rule and a reminder that foreign investment in the area has failed to lift their standard of living.

The mine, which employs thousands of local workers, is majority owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. of Phoenix, Arizona, which posted revenue of nearly $18 billion in 2008. The Indonesian government holds a minority stake in the Grasberg mine, and there is a production-sharing joint venture with the Rio Tinto Group.

The Australian mining expert was shot and killed on Saturday while traveling in a vehicle in the same area where two Americans and an Indonesian schoolteacher were killed in an ambush in 2002.

The low-level insurgency for an independent Papua has been a source of clashes with government troops since the region was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule in the 1960s. West Papua was taken over through a stage-managed vote by community leaders called the “Act of Free Choice,” which has been widely dismissed by international scholars as a sham.

Since then, about 100,000 Papuans, the equivalent of a sixth of the current population ? have died in military operations in the resource-rich mountain area.

The Grasberg mining complex in Papua’s remote highlands is one of the world’s largest single producers of both copper and gold. It contains the largest recoverable reserves of copper and the largest single gold reserve in the world, Freeport’s Web site says.

The Indonesian government does not allow foreign media to freely report in Papua, where it has tens of thousands of troops. The site of Saturday’s shooting was inaccessible to local reporters.

Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report from Jakarta.

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