The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) are in trouble again in Papua.
Authorities are investigating at least two soldiers in connection with the brutal slaying of two Freeport-Indonesia security men in a mysterious dusk ambush two months ago.
Sources familiar with the April 7 incident, which was initially blamed on Free Papua Movement (OPM) rebels, say Mr Hari Siregar and Mr Daniel Mansawan were run off the road by another vehicle, shot at point-blank range, and then burned beyond recognition.
Detachment 88, anti-terrorism police, who maintain a semi-permanent presence at Freeport’s Grasberg copper and gold mine, are understood to have traced a soldier through one of the victim’s mobile phones, which had dropped off the network at the time of the murder but was detected after being reactivated earlier this month. The soldier’s calls were then monitored.
At least one other soldier is under suspicion for a crime that appears to stem from an internal dispute but may well have wider implications.
While the police took over security for the mine in 2004, military units still play a role in guarding its outer perimeter. Both benefit from a US$100 million a year illegal gold-mining operation that has grown up around the mine waste.
The precipitous main road between the coastal town of Timika and the highland mining town of Tembagapura has been the scene of several sniping incidents since 2009, but those came to an abrupt end last year after East European military tracker dogs were brought in to hunt the gunmen.
However, there is evidence pointing towards those incidents being the work of Mr Goliat Tabuni, the most aggressive of the OPM commanders.
Meanwhile, the April 7 incident occurred on a secondary road skirting the eastern edge of the levee that prevents mine waste from encroaching into the Lorenz National Park.
The brutal nature of the crime – and the involvement of a second unidentified vehicle in an area open only to authorised personnel – suggested something far more sinister than rebel activity.
A day before the incident, two Freeport employees were slightly wounded in a shooting in the same area, which unlike much of the Timika-Tembagapura road provides little cover for mounting an ambush.
It is not clear why two senior security managers would drive to such an isolated spot shortly before nightfall.
Following meetings between Freeport executives, Indonesia’s Chief Political Minister Djoko Suyanto and Mines and Energy Minister Darwin Saleh, a delegation of security officials visited Timika to reassure the company’s 15,000 employees that they would be protected from further violence.
But there have been no arrests and the police and military – uneasy bedfellows at the best of times – are keeping the investigation under wraps.
That contrasts with the way the TNI pursued last year’s case of three soldiers, who were subsequently jailed for eight to 10 months for torturing two Papuans.
That prosecution was regarded as a significant step towards greater accountability for an army used to acting with impunity and often deaf to international opinion on a litany of human rights cases.
When the torture case came to light last October, the Foreign Ministry and the TNI separately called in diplomats and military attaches from the United States, Britain, Holland, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea to tell them legal action was being taken.
Of course, the circumstances then were different. The charges of abuse arose from a video on YouTube showing the soldiers prodding the genitals of one Papuan with a burning stick and threatening another with a knife at a roadblock.
Indeed, until the Americans provided TNI headquarters with the video testimony, anecdotal evidence suggests the officers at the regional command level may have sought to confuse another incident with the more serious torture case.
Significantly, Papua’s then-regional commander, Major-General Hotma Marbun, was quietly replaced on Nov 12, after less than a year on the job, in what a military spokesman described as a routine rotation.
The TNI and the police are treating the Freeport murders differently, either because it is an ongoing investigation or because there are compelling political reasons for treading carefully.
The police learnt a bitter lesson in 2002, when they accused the military of the ambush-slaying of three Freeport teachers, including two Americans, only for a US Federal Bureau of Investigation probe to determine it was the work of rebel fighter Antonius Wamang, who is now serving a life term.