Sat, 25 Jan 2003

TNI pledge help to FBI in probe into Timika ambush

Tiarma Siboro and Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has pledged to help U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers probe the deadly ambush on employees of American mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia in Papua.

TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin said on Friday the two FBI agents, who arrived on Wednesday, met with TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto and other top military bosses on Thursday, with both parties agreeing to cooperate and ensure the investigation was mutually beneficial.

Sjafrie said TNI officers had briefed the agents on the results of the TNI's own investigation which controversially concluded that its soldiers were not involved in the attack that killed two Americans and an Indonesian in Timika.

"We offered them all necessary assistance needed to conduct the investigation," Sjafrie told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

The FBI sent special agents Edward Montoth and Robert Deardorss and an interpreter after the U.S. government expressed disappointment with the conflicting conclusions of the police and military investigations.

In its investigation, the provincial police alleged the involvement of Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) battalion 515 soldiers in the ambush, following the finding of military weaponry believed to belong to the unit.

The TNI has repeatedly pleaded not guilty, blaming the separatist Free Papuan Movement (OPM). Evidence put forward by the TNI to support its claim has largely been ridiculed.

U.S. Embassy charge d'affairs Stephen Mull said the FBI team would start working closely with the police and would stay in Indonesia for as long as it took.

"There's no definite end date and the (Indonesian) government's been very cooperative so far," Mull told reporters at his office on Friday.

"They are investigators, they were actually here back in September, also at the invitation of the government ... So they are experts in that they have been following the case since August. They're FBI agents who are skilled investigators," Mull added.

He, nevertheless, refused to go into detail, saying "we're really at a very early stage".