"We have sent a group of mobile brigade police into the jungle," he said.

They have "not found anything yet and the search is continuing," he said, adding that it was extremely rough terrain.

On Saturday Drew Grant, an Australian mining technician was shot in the neck as he travelled in a car with five other people on a road between the towns of Tembagapura and Timika.

A day later, gunmen opened fire on two Freeport company vehicles, killing a security guard, and then ambushed police responding to the attack.

At least seven others were injured in the three attacks.

'No guns'

Many West Papuans live in poverty despite the region's wealth of natural resources [AFP]
Police have said they suspect the Free Papua Movement, a separatist group who have sought independence for the province since the 1960s, were behind the attacks.

However Damien Kingsbury, a professor of International Relations in Australia's Deakin University, told Al Jazeera that representatives of the Free Papua Movement had rejected any responsibility.

Kingsbury said he had spokesn to representatives of the movement in the wake of the attacks, which he said were "not consistent with their previous activities".

"They have completely denied responsibility and have laid the blame squarely at the feet of the militias working on behalf of the Indonesian army," he said.

Yorris Raweyai, a Papuan politician in the national parliament, also dismissed claims that the separatist movement, known by its Indonesian acronym OPM, was responsible.

"We know the OPM has been labelled as a troublemaker in Papua for four decades,'' he told the Associated Press.

"But we also know that they have no guns and fight for their struggle peacefully.''

Supporters of Papuan independence see the Grasberg mine as a symbol of Jakarta's rule and a reminder that foreign investment in the area has failed to lift their standard of living.

The giant mine, which employs thousands of local workers, is majority owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Incorporated, a company based in the US state of Arizona.

It posted revenue of nearly $18bn in 2008.

The Indonesian government holds a minority stake in the Grasberg mine, and there is a production-sharing joint venture with the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto Group.

Insurgency

The insurgency for an independent Papua has been a source of clashes with government troops since the region was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule in the 1960s.

The territory was taken over by Jakarta through a stage-managed vote by community leaders called the "Act of Free Choice" – a process seen as a sham by many critics.

Since then, about 100,000 Papuans - the equivalent of a sixth of the current population - have died in military operations in the resource-rich mountainous region.

After years of relative quiet, the number of fatal attacks jumped this year ahead of the Indonesia's general elections in April, but it is unclear if there is a connection.