MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Jakarta tells Freeport, 'Start following rules'

Published by MAC on 2006-00-24

Jakarta tells Freeport, 'Start following rules'

by Peter Gelling International Herald Tribune

24th march 2006

The Indonesian government warned the U.S. operator of the world's largest copper mine Thursday to clean up its environmental practices or face court action.

As a result of a government's investigation, Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said he expected Freeport-McMoRan to receive the worst environmental rating possible.

He also issued a series of recommendations to improve the mine's standards.

The government did not issue a deadline for Freeport to meet these standards but said it should take no longer than two or three years. Another team will be sent to the mine in May to assess progress, he said.

Court action will not be taken immediately, the minister said, because this is the first serious investigation by the government.

"We want Freeport to start following the rules here," he said. "Freeport shouldn't be its own country within a country. There are 500 other companies like Freeport here that follow the rules."

A spokesman for Freeport, Siddharta Moersjid, said the company would fully cooperate with the Indonesian government.

"We will continue to work with the ministry, as we have the same common objective in trying to minimize the impact to the environment from our activities," he said.

The government's investigation, carried out by a team of 24 independent experts, found an alarming amount of waste being pumped into Papuan rivers - thousands of tons a day.

Witoelar said the company urgently needed to establish an alternative method for disposing of mine waste that used more efficient technology.

The warning came hours after a landslide ripped through an area surrounding the mine in Indonesia's remote province of Papua, killing 3 people and injuring more than 20 others.

Moersjid said the land fell from a ridge of a mountain near the mine at 1 a.m. A wall of mud crashed into a cafeteria serving personnel from the mine, he said.

Witoelar, however, emphasized that the landslide was not a result of mining activities.

The government issued its report a week after protesters in Papua, calling for the mine to be closed, clashed with the police.

Five police officers and one soldier were killed in the confrontation. Protests have spread recently to other cities across Indonesia, including the capital, Jakarta.

The Indonesian government announced Wednesday that it was sending hundreds more officers to patrol Papua Province.

Protesters, the media and local politicians have condemned Freeport in recent months for its environmental practices, as well as its treatment of local Papuans and its involvement with the Indonesian military, which provides security for the site.
Indonesia's military has been widely cited for abuses against the local populace.

Newmont, another U.S. mining company operating in Indonesia, has also been the subject of recent protests and attacks.

The company closed an exploration camp on the island of Sumbawa after protesters attacked and then set fire to the camp. Newmont settled out of court with the Indonesian government in February on charges it had polluted Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi.

Freeport's mine waste is discarded in the Ajkwa River. About a third of that waste is then carried to a coastal estuary, a breeding ground for marine life.

Witoelar said that Freeport had no legal permit to dispose of its tailings in this way and that under Indonesian law that system of disposal had been prohibited since 1990.

The Forum for Environment, also known as Wahli, an environmental watchdog group in Indonesia, said the government's investigation would have little effect on the mine's operations.

"We think it is a waste of time," said the group's deputy director, Farah Sofa. "Freeport has long been on the wrong side of the law. There needs to be direct consequences for the company's actions."

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