Saturday, June 27, 2009
Aussie Spy Data Points to Papua Murder Cover-Up
NEW details of secret Australian surveillance of Indonesia's Papua province have emerged, revealing that Australian officials believed Indonesian military weapons were used in the murder of two US citizens. Documents show the officials told US diplomats within hours of the 2002 shooting that automatic Steyr rifles were used.
The US State Department documents show the Australians passed on the information on August 31, 2002 — the day the two US school teachers and an Indonesian colleague were shot dead. They were ambushed on an isolated road near the giant US-owned Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine, where the three worked.
The heavily censored documents were obtained under freedom of information by US researchers, who say they show Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stalled US efforts to allow the FBI to investigate the killings. Pro-independence guerillas were blamed, but human rights groups have long accused the Indonesian military of involvement — a suspicion initially shared by Indonesian police.
The US documents provide the latest insight into Australia's close knowledge of events surrounding the shootings. Two months after the ambush, Australian spy agencies were reported to have given the US intelligence relating to a planned military attack on the Freeport mine, designed to discredit the pro-independence Free Papua Movement (OPM).
And last year, The Sunday Age revealed Australian government officials imposed extraordinary secrecy when eight wounded survivors of the ambush were flown to Townsville Hospital. The newly obtained documents are further evidence of a cover-up
surrounding the ambush, says Eben Kirskey of the University of California who has researched the killings.
The documents include a cable written on the day of the ambush by the US embassy in Jakarta and sent to the State Department in Washington and US embassy in Canberra.
It reveals officials at the mine were reluctant to blame OPM guerillas for attacking the teachers, who were "specifically and deliberately targeted".
The cable continues: "There are reports from Australian sources close to provincial police that the automatic weapons used in the attack were manufactured by Steyr, a weapon not typically used by the OPM in the past, though (it) is a common make in Indonesian security force inventories in the province."
Indonesian police ballistics experts later identified three types of military weapons used in the shooting, including M16s, which fire the same cartridge as the Steyr.
The embassy cable posed three possible explanations for the attack: the OPM had abandoned its practice of not targeting foreigners; the attack was carried out by "some rogue security force"; or it was a terrorist attack — an option the cable ruled out. Documents obtained by Dr Kirskey and Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono last year revealed the extent of Australian secrecy when the survivors of the attack arrived in Townsville the next day.
The survivors were barred from calling relatives for almost two days and from talking about the identity of their attackers. Australian police imposed extraordinary security on the hospital, while US diplomats took the unusual step of asking an Australian military officer to check on the condition of the patients. Separate inquiries published by The Sunday Age last September disclosed unidentified government officials effectively took charge of non-medical operations at the hospital, under a directive issued at "high government level".
Two months after the shooting, The Washington Post reported that US officials had obtained information showing Indonesian military officers had discussed an operation against Freeport before the ambush, aimed at discrediting the OPM so the US would
declare it a terrorist organisation.
The information included details of a conversation secretly intercepted by an Australian agency — likely to be the top-secret Defence Signals Directorate, which monitors mobile phone, radio and internet messages.
The new documents show President Yudhoyono stalled in the face of US pressure to allow the FBI to investigate the killings, which Indonesian police initially blamed on the military.
In 2006, seven men were sentenced over the killings, including alleged ringleader Antonius Wamang, who received a life term.
by Tom Hyland
The Age (Melbourne)
Sunday, June 28, 2009