MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Four killed in anti-Freeport protests in Indonesia

Published by MAC on 2006-03-16

Four killed in anti-Freeport protests in Indonesia

by Achmad Sukarsono, Reuters, JAKARTA

16th March 2006

Three policemen and a soldier in Indonesia's remote Papua province died on Thursday in clashes with protesters demanding the closure of a giant mine run by U.S. firm Freeport-McMoran Cooper & Gold Inc, police said.

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he was sending officials to the scene and his ministers would investigate issues raised in controversy over the mine.

Papuan police said students from the province's main university in the capital of Jayapura, about 500 km (311 miles) northeast of the mine, pelted policemen with stones to stop them from opening a roadblock to the city's airport.

"Three policemen have died along with a soldier from the airbase. Forty people are now being interrogated," Papua police chief Tommy Jacobus told Indonesia's Metro TV. Papua police spokesman Kartono Wangsadisastra earlier said police tried to break up the protest by firing teargas and rubber bullets.

In Jakarta, deputy national police spokesman Anton Bahrul Alam said around 19 other police officers had to be rushed to the hospital due to injuries and branded the protesters as "brutal".

"The dead victims were not only pelted. They were also stabbed. The mob were anarchists but we have control over their territory now," he said, adding officers found machetes and molotov cocktails inside the Cenderawasih University campus.

He declined to say how many civilians were hurt. Local media reports indicated some protesters may also have been killed.

Local television footage showed chaotic scenes of give-and-take between charging protesters and police, many of the latter carrying staves and plastic shields.

At one point gun-wielding anti-riot police broke into the university's compound to chase the rally leaders, while protesters showered the police with rocks.

Other footage appeared to show protesters kicking and beating people on the ground, while in other clips men in who appear to be plainclothes police are firing pistols aimed toward the protesters.

Jayapura, on the northeastern shore of Papua, is located 3,500 km (2,200 miles) from Jakarta at Indonesia's extreme eastern border.

President Yudhoyono told reporters he would send officials to Papua to check on the situation.

"I have received information from (telephone) text messages that have been twisting the condition. Let's give our security officers space to do their job," he said.

Yudhoyono said he would assign ministers to take a look at social grievances related to the mine, and act on their findings.

But he also said: "Of course, if we follow the opinions of some people who want Freeport closed now that would create legal problems. It will be difficult to explain why there is a strong reason to suddenly close it. Our national business climate will be disrupted."

The mine is Indonesia's single biggest taxpayer.

On Wednesday, one person was shot by an arrow hours after anti-Freeport protesters tried to storm a five-star hotel in Timika, the nearest town to Freeport's Grasberg mine.

There have been sporadic protests against the mine in recent weeks, both in Papua and Jakarta. A road blockade by mostly illegal miners shut down operations for four days last month.

Illegal miners often enter mining areas in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago that is the world's fourth most populous country with huge deposits of such metals as copper, gold and tin.

None of this week's protests have affected mining activities.

Protest issues vary from illegal miners asking access to the mine area to demands like the Jayapura demonstrators for closure of the lucrative mine, believed to have the world's third-largest copper reserves and one of the biggest gold deposits.

The Freeport operation has been a frequent source of controversy over its impact on the environment, the share of revenue going to Papuans and the legality of payments to Indonesian security forces who help guard the site. (With additional reporting by Telly Nathalia)

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