Police have told senior Indonesian military officials they believe Indonesian soldiers were responsible for the Aug. 31 ambush near a copper and gold mine in Papua province that killed two Americans and an Indonesian, according to a senior military officer and a high-ranking intelligence officer.

I Made Pastika, who until recently headed the investigation as Papua police chief, told Maj. Gen. Sulaiman, the Indonesian military police commander, and another high-ranking army officer who visited Papua about a week ago that the police suspect soldiers carried out the attack near a mine owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. of New Orleans, the senior Indonesian military officer said.

Separately, Indonesian military intelligence chief Ian Santoso was told that the Papuan provincial police believe the military carried out the attack, according to the high-ranking Indonesian intelligence officer.

Pastika, who is now leading the police investigation of the Oct. 12 bombings on Bali, denied today that he had said the army was responsible for the attack. Instead, he said he briefed Sulaiman and an assistant to the army commander for more than two hours on the investigation's findings and let them draw their own conclusions.

"What I did was to explain what we have done and what we have found," he said. "I gave them all that information and explanation. It depends on them how to interpret the information."

He said he was reasonably certain who was responsible but, in keeping with the usual practice, would not state his suspicions publicly until the investigation has been completed and the case has been sent to prosecutors.

But in private meetings, Pastika and his investigators have blamed the army for the ambush, according to the high-ranking Indonesian officers. Two other Western sources said that Pastika has said privately that police believe the military carried out the attack.

If the army is found to have been involved in the attacks, it could disrupt Indonesia's relations with the United States. The Bush administration is eager to restore ties with the Indonesian military, which were cut in 1999 to protest the army's role in orchestrating militia violence in East Timor.

Pastika confirmed today that Papua police have questioned about 74 people, including 30 soldiers and about 44 civilians. He said he is waiting for the military police to decide whether to conduct their own investigation of the ambush.

Papua police received permission from the senior military commander in Papua, Maj. Gen. Mahidin Simbolon, to question soldiers, but none have been named as suspects, Pastika said.

The police investigation is now focusing on the role of Indonesian army special forces, called Kopassus, according to Western sources.

Last month, a Papuan man who described himself as a local militia member hired by Kopassus said in an interview that he was ordered by a Kopassus commander to accompany him and nine soldiers toward the mountain mining town of Tembagapura on the day of the ambush. During the trip, he said, he and four soldiers were let out of the vehicle, while the others continued on, and shortly afterward, he said, he heard gunfire. He said he was "100 percent sure" the shooters were Kopassus.

Pastika said his team was checking the man's story but cautioned that some of the details he gave were inconsistent with what the team found in the field.

One Western source familiar with the investigation said he believes that Kopassus, whose mission in Papua is to combat the separatist Free Papua Movement, had reason to strike at Freeport-McMoRan. The source said that Kopassus officers were upset with the mine owner because they believed that company funds had been used to pay for a trip to Australia in August by activists sympathetic to the separatists. The source said this belief was unfounded.

Pastika said he had no knowledge of the allegation.

Freeport-McMoRan, which has a significant investment in Papua, pays the Indonesian military to provide security for the mining operation and contributes funds for local development projects.

Pastika, a highly respected police officer who was just named the deputy chief of the national criminal investigative department, led the investigation of the killing of Papuan separatist leader Theys Eluay last November, which led to the detention of 12 Kopassus special forces soldiers. An American source said that before Eluay's killing, another Papuan separatist, Willem Onde, was slain and that U.S. officials "had the strongest reason to believe Kopassus did it."