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Behind the Freeport-Rio Tinto murders in 2000

Published by MAC on 2004-03-03

Behind the Freeport-Rio Tinto murders in 2000

The FBI and US officials have concluded that the Indonesian military murdered two US teachers (and one Indonesian) working for Freeport-Rio Tinto in 2002. This was to pressure the company into continuing multi-million dollar pay-offs it had been voluntarily providing the army for some years. Not that Freeport-Rio Tinto has morally repudiated this provision of "protection money".Indeed some payments to Indonesian armed forces continue to this day.

Indonesian army ordered deadly ambush

By Slobodan Lekic, The Associated Press

3rd March 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - U.S. officials believe local army commanders ordered an ambush that killed two American teachers near a gold mine in a case that has held up resumption of normal U.S.-Indonesia military ties, two American officials told The Associated Press.

Elements of the military have long been suspected in the 2002 attack, but a much-criticized joint Indonesia police-military investigation proved inconclusive. U.S. authorities said their probe continues with FBI agents now in Indonesia, making their fifth visit to the ambush site.

"It's no longer a question of who did it," a senior U.S. official familiar with the investigation, told AP. "It's only a question of how high up this went within the chain of command," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

FBI officials and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta have refused to discuss any evidence. "We do not comment on ongoing investigations," said Stanley Harsha, an embassy spokesman.

Privately, U.S. officials say little doubt remains about who was responsible for the attack on vehicles driving down a road to a gold mine operated by New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold.

Any U.S. finding against the military, however, could jeopardize the Bush administration's desire to restore U.S.-Indonesian military ties, which were suspended after army atrocities in East Timor in 1999.

The Bush administration regards Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim nation - as its key Southeast Asian ally in the war on terror.

The Republican-controlled Congress initially backed an initiative to restore military ties, voting in 2002 to approve a resumption of the International Military Education and Training program.

But renewed doubts set in after the ambush. And in January, lawmakers reinstated the ban until the State Department determines the Indonesian government is helping with the FBI probe.

The State Department's annual human rights report, released last week, criticized as "ineffectual" the joint Indonesia police-military investigation, saying police and soldiers failed to cooperate.

Immediately after the attack, local police commander Brig. Gen. Raziman Tarigan blamed special forces soldiers. The military brass denied the accusation, and assumed control of the investigation.

Indonesian officials have since blamed rebels, although they are armed only with bows and arrows and antiquated bolt-action rifles. Sophisticated automatic weapons were used in the ambush.

Now and in 2002, army checkpoints control the remote mountain road ambush site, which is not accessible to civilians.

Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Ahmad Basir, chief of the military police, refused comment on the FBI investigation. Freeport-McMoRan officials in Indonesia also won't talk about the case.

On Aug. 31, 2002, armed assailants staged the ambush near the world's largest gold mine at Timika in Papua province on the island of New Guinea. Two teachers were killed - Rick Spier of Littleton, Colo., and Ted Burgon of Sunriver, Ore. - and eight other people were wounded.

FBI investigators believe local army commanders were trying to extort protection payments from Freeport after the company reduced its regular contributions to them, U.S. officials told AP. The attackers likely were unaware the convoy carried Americans, the officials said.

Spier's widow, Patsy, suffered multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds in the attack. She's pressing lawmakers for justice.

"Why would we want to improve ties with Indonesia and re-establish ties with the military if the police have accused them of being behind the killing of Americans?" she told AP. "The people who carried out that ambush were arrogant enough to think they could get away with it because they've gotten away with so many crimes in the past."

Indonesia's army has a history of human rights abuses, during and after ex-leader Suharto's military-backed dictatorship that ended in 1998.

In 1999, the army led the destruction in East Timor following the U.N.-organized independence referendum.

In 2001, a special forces squad assassinated Theys Eluay, West Papua's leading politician. Other units have been involved in attacks on civilians in the province, where a pro-independence rebel movement has operated since the 1960s. The latest State Department report cites numerous extrajudicial killings by security forces in West Papua's central highlands, which include the Timika mine.

"The entire case of Timika reinforces the view that getting close to a violent, unreformed military is a very risky prospect," said Jeffrey Winters, an Indonesia expert at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The United States and Indonesia have had a seesaw relationship since Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949.

In the mid-1960s, Washington forged close ties with Suharto, whose government slaughtered left-wingers and in 1974 invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. But in the 1990s, ties worsened amid accusations of human rights abuses.

In 1999, the Clinton administration placed strict curbs on military-to-military relations in response to army atrocities in East Timor. A law banned contacts until the military is held accountable for those crimes.

But as President Bush took over the White House, an effort spearheaded by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz - a former ambassador to Jakarta and unabashed Suharto supporter - was launched to improve relations with Indonesia.

This was justified by the need to build up Indonesia into a bulwark against al-Qaida infiltration into Southeast Asia.

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