The true story behind the latest shootings near the Freeport mine in Timika of 29-year-old Australian Drew Grant and security guard Markus Ratealo, like many other out bursts of violence in the troubled Indonesian province of Papua, will probably never be revealed.

Instead speculation and heresy will dominate the headlines and airwaves, as anonymous sources line up to give their inside secrets to what really happened until the story fades with the churning of the news cycle.

Papua is a media black hole with foreign journalists rarely permitted to report from the province. Incidents of violence in Papua are seldom covered with information difficult or, more often than not, impossible to confirm.

The situation as it stands in the media reads like a Hollywood murder mystery with two initial corresponding possible culprits, the Free West Papua Movement, or Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), and Brimob, the special operations “anti-riot” arm of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

The Freeport Grasberg complex is a gold and copper mine operated by the Louisiana based company since the 1970s. It is one of the largest and most profitable gold and copper mines in the world and Freeport is Indonesia’s highest tax payer, the company boasted profits of $US 18 billion in 2008 alone. The Indonesian government also have a minority stake in the mine, making Grasberg security a matter of national importance.

Violence at the mine site is far from unheard of. In the Freeport’s history there have been numerous attacks on foreign workers and untold incidences of violence against the local indigenous population.

In reports about the shooting Reuters have referred to “friction” in Timika stemming from economic disenfranchisement, with locals indirectly receiving just one percent of the mine’s profits channeled through government bodies, but the environmental impacts of the Freeport mine are of equal concern.

When Grant was shot last Saturday he was heading towards the Timika Sheraton golf course, a luxurious establishment in the middle of the jungle of a poverty stricken province.

With lax or un-enforced environmental regulations, the tailings of the mine have flowed into the rivers as the open cut mine was carved into the  mountains. Environmental issues are regularly at the forefront of discussion on Freeport.

It is no coincidence that Papua’s most famous freedom fighter is OPM Timika faction leader Kelly Kwalik.

The OPM were blamed for the last killing of Freeport employees in Papua in 2002, near Timika, but they never accepted responsibility for it. In fact many commentators believe the Papuan man shot by the TNI at the scene of the killings was “set up”.

The timing of Grant and Ratealo’s shooting could be linked to the outcome of the Indonesian national election last week. TNI supporters will suggest the violence was generated by OPM dissatisfaction with the results.

Indeed, President Yudhoyono’s success is not welcomed by all factions of the OPM. His popularity in the traditionally rebellious provinces of Papua and Aceh does not bode well for the OPM’s push towards autonomy and eventual independence from Indonesia.

But Deakin University’s Damien Kingsbury says it is more likely that the “usual suspects”, the TNI, are responsible for the violence than the OPM. Kingsbury told Crikey,

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.

Kwalik has denied the OPM had any involvement in the shooting, saying his fighters neither had the desire, nor the equipment, for the attacks.

Papuan police have said weapons used to kill Grant and Ratealo were standard military or police issue and the ABC Monday quoted their own anonymous source who says Brimob are responsible.

With their security contract for the mine coming up for renewal, the ABC’s source believes the killings were staged to encourage Freeport to stick with the military.

The Indonesian military in Papua are financially heavily reliant on security contracts with foreign companies. Only a fraction of the money needed to support the Indonesian armed forces is actually supplied by the government, so the loss of securing Freeport would be economically unacceptable to the local Brimob.

Kingsbury says that the timing of the shooting suggests local TNO commanders are concerned that the newly re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will move towards talks with West Papuan separatists. Kingsbury told Crikey,

This now Yudhoyono’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 Yudhoyono’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 Yudhoyono’s re-election, the timing is unsubtle. But then, the TNI has rarely been subtle, not least in its timing.

It is unlikely that it will ever be proven if the TNI, the OPM or some other mysterious group is responsible for these killings. But, as with all things Papuan, you can pretty much guarantee at least one media outlet will blame cannibals.

Eleri Harris completed her thesis “Kidnapping, West Papaun Resistance and the Australian Media” at the University of Melbourne in 2005.