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Violence plagues Indonesia's restive province

In West Papua, US company Freeport-McMoran is in the cross-hairs.

The Free Papua Movement, though having existed for almost 40 years, is not believed to be very well organized and is thought by analysts to have little to no weapons at its disposal. It is unlikely, they say, that anyone within the Free Papua Movement could access the kind of firepower necessary to carry out either the 2002 attacks or the most recent ones.

This time around, they say the shootings are more likely the result of conflicts between the national police, or POLRI, and military personnel, known as the TNI, who are competing for lucrative security arrangements around the mine and other dubious business activities there.

“Timika has become a site where an open war over money between TNI and POLRI is taking place. In 2008, Freeport paid $8 million in support costs to security forces, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,” said Eben Kirksey, an American anthropologist and expert on Papua, who had previously investigated the 2002 shootings.

Until recently, the Indonesian military had for decades been entangled in business affairs throughout the Indonesian archipelago, a process instigated by former strongman Suharto, who was ousted in 1998. Since the election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, however, the military has undergone major reforms and many of those business arrangements have since been divested. Security at Freeport, for instance, was officially transferred from the military to the national police in 2007.

“TNI had financial incentive to stage the attack — a disturbance would show that POLRI was doing a poor job at providing security for this national project,” Kirksey added. “At the same time POLRI is now in a situation, much like they were with the 2002 attacks, where it is in their best interest to pursue evidence of TNI involvement. The battle between TNI and POLRI in Timika is a microcosm for a war between these two institutions on a national level.”

A spokesman for the military told The Jakarta Globe that he believed the Free Papua Movement had been trying to instigate a situation where the military would commit human rights abuses, thereby increasing international attention on Papua.

“They would applaud if we took strong action against them,” the spokesman said. “So we must be careful not to get trapped in that scenario.”

Wednesday’s attack on the military convoy, which was carrying at least one district commander, only muddles the case further.

“The jury is still out about who conducted these attacks. Allegations and denials are flying from all possible corners,” said Kirksey. “If investigators identify a marksman, my first questions will be: Where did they get their guns? And who trained them?”