4 Nov 2002

Those wounded in Freeport attack in Indonesia's Papua say locals fired the shots

11:42 am on 4 November 2002

The victims of an ambush near the Freeport Mine in the Indonesian province of Papua have spoken about the attack publicly for the first time.

In an e-mail to the news agency Reuters, they say at least three Papuan men fired about 200 rounds from rifles and shotguns into a convoy of mainly U.S. teachers, killing three people.

They say they were trapped for 30 minutes as the gunmen fired at the vehicles and thought they were going to die.

One of the teachers, Saundra Hopkins said she had a clear view of one of the attackers and she says he was definitely Papuan.

Indonesian police say they are investigating several possibilities, including whether the Indonesian military were involved in the ambush.

An Australian newspaper has reported that U.S. intelligence services have intercepted messages between Indonesian army commanders that indicate their involvement.

The Sydney Morning Herald said a source close to the U.S. embassy in Jakarta suggested the ambush was linked to a protection racket targeting the mine.

An Australian academic, Dr Harold Crouch, says identification of the gunmen as Papuan does not rule out military involvement.

He points to the military's use of local militias that killed hundreds in East Timor after it voted for independence.