MAC: Mines and Communities

Freeport Ambush Libel Case Opens in Jayapura

Published by MAC on 2003-08-22

Freeport Ambush Libel Case Opens in Jayapura

22 August 2003

The aftermath of the tragic shooting deaths of two US teachers and one Indonesian citizen a year ago at the mine site of PT Freeport Indonesia, the subsidiary of US-based Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Corp, continued on Wednesday (August 20) as the libel trial opened in the Papua province's capital, Jayapura.

Human rights activists and journalists have been charged with libel after they accused the elite special branch of the Indonesia's military (TNI), the Kopassus of orchestrating the killings to destabilise the region and the mine site and ensuring lucrative security contracts and budgets continue to flow to the TNI.

The New York Times reported late last year that the security contracts to maintain security at the world's largest gold mine and one of the world's largest copper mines amounted to more than US$12 million over the two years of 2001 and 2002.

The defendants include the director of Papua's Institute for Human Rights Studies and Advocacy (Els-HAM), Yohanis G. Bonay, and his colleague John Rumbiak, as well as the chief editors of Tempo weekly news magazine and the Suara Karya daily reported The Jakarta Post.

The 20-minute opening hearing to examine procedural requirements on behalf of both the plaintiffs and the defendants, was attended by 5 of the 10 defence lawyers and 6 lawyers appointed for the plaintiff by the Trikora regional military command.

The panel of judges adjourned the hearing for more than one month until September 25, 2003, as most of the five defendants had failed to show up.

The three victims, who were shot dead by a group of well-armed and apparently well-trained gunmen, were employees of Freeport Indonesia.

The military immediately attempted to pin the blame for the attack on a faction of the Free Papua Organization (OPM) separatist group led by Kelly Kwalik.

The attack took place at Mile 63, an area near the Freeport compound which was supposed to have been tightly guarded by soldiers said The Post.

The libel action, submitted to the Jayapura District Court on June 13, 2003, resulted from a media conference in Jakarta on Sept. 25 last year, in which Rumbiak described what he said was the role of Kopassus soldiers in the ambush.

Els-HAM, however, has denied accusing the Kopassus troops of being responsible for the incident, but said that Rumbiak was only disclosing information his group had obtained from local people regarding the attack.

Trikora Military Commander Maj. Gen. Nurdin Zainal has dismissed the accusations as "baseless", and said they were designed to tarnish the image of the TNI.

The military is seeking Rp 50 billion (US$5.8 million) in non-material losses and Rp 1 million (US$125) in material losses, and also demand that the defendants publicly apologise through the national and international media.

International attention

The trial is sure to attract international attention as the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have recently revisited the site to recommence investigations after earlier work failed to determine the facts of the case.

Last year the FBI strongly criticised the TNI and hinted that there was involvement in the incident by Indonesia's military.

The issue was raised in the US senate and until this day cooperation between the two nation's military have remained suspended and relations are somewhat strained.

The US adm9inistration believes it is imperative those responsible for this heinous crime be brought to justice before normal relations can be restored.

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