Freeport ambushes kill 2; police step up manhunt PDF Afdrukken

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Paramilitary units scoured the dense mountainous jungle of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province Monday after gunmen ambushed and killed two employees of the U.S. mining conglomerate Freeport, officials said.

A 29-year-old Australian mining expert was shot to death Saturday while traveling in a car just outside the company's massive Grasberg copper and gold mine in the province, police said.

On Sunday, gunmen opened fire on two Freeport vehicles, killing a security guard, then ambushed police and anti-terrorist squads responding to the assault. At least seven others were injured in the three attacks in a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) radius.

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.

Indonesian authorities were quick to blame separatists with the Free Papua Movement, who have sought independence for the province since the 1960s. Police have said they recovered military-grade bullet casings from the area.

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.

After years of relative quiet, the number of fatal incidents jumped this year ahead of April general elections, but it is unclear if there is a connection.

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.