The shooting of a young Australian engineer at the Freeport mine in West Papua on Saturday morning has raised questions about who did it and why. Immediate attention focused on the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) and the long-held grievances of the local indigenous peoples who have been displaced by the massive mine. However, it is more likely this is a set-up job, with the usual suspects, the Indonesian military (TNI), behind it.
There is no doubt that the OPM and other West Papuan independence organisations want a very different arrangement with Jakarta. However, their policy over the past few months has been one of public protest, with the aim of getting the Indonesian government to the negotiating table.
The OPM has only once targeted foreigners, in a kidnapping, from which they were freed unharmed (although Indonesians were killed). The 2002shooting the three school teachers, including two Americans, near the Freeport site, was undertaken by a former OPM member who had been turned by the TNI.
At that time, the TNI was angry that its regular supply of free cash from Freeport had dried up, when Freeport responded to post-Enron legislation making its financial structure more transparent. As with all protection rackets, the intention was to demonstrate that such 'protection' was necessary.
This time, there are two possible scenarios. The first is that it is another enforcement of the protection racket, from which TNI officers grow rich and soldiers live a bit better. Given that the TNI is still largely self-funded, and still engages in both legal and criminal business activities, the lost of Freeport income would hurt.
The second and more likely scenario is that the local TNI commanders are concerned that the newly re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will move towards talks with West Papuan separatists. The is now SBY's second and final term, and there is now doubt he would like to score another win like the Aceh peace agreement as part of his political legacy.
Such talks, however, could see a real diminution of the TNI's local income and political power. While the TNI is reforming at the top, and in some other areas, its operations in West Papua remain mired in New Order-style repression. Hence local commanders not sympathetic to SBY's reform process could be sending a message.
The first message is that the OPM will shoot foreigners and can't be trusted, so don't talk to them. The second message is that the security situation remains volatile, so the TNI needs to retain its presence in West Papua. One might suggest that, hot on the heels of SBY's re-election, the timing is unsubtle. But then, the TNI has rarely been subtle, not least in its timing.
Australian police have been sent to help with the investigation, but are unlikely to receive much cooperation. No doubt a local will eventually be held responsible, but that won't answer the question of who he was working for, or who gave the orders. For the TNI, this will be business as usual.