MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Tribes reject Freeport talks in U.S.

Published by MAC on 2006-06-08

Tribes reject Freeport talks in U.S.

Tb. Arie Rukmantara, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta,

8th June 2006

Papuan tribal leaders oppose a plan by local councillors to meet PT Freeport Indonesia bosses in the United States city of New Orleans to renegotiate the company's much-criticized working contract.

Any negotiation with the executives of parent company Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc. should take place in Papua, where it operates the world's largest gold mine, they said.

Environmentalists here and abroad have said Freeport Indonesia's have caused extensive damage to ecosystems in the area.

Speaking in Jakarta on Wednesday at a conference hosted by national environmental group Walhi, Amungme tribal leader Yosepha "Mama" Alomang said a meeting with the company in Papua must take place sometime this year.

The Amungme tribe holds the traditional ulayat rights in the area where Freeport's Grasberg mine operates. Representatives from seven tribes living near the Grasberg mine also attended the meeting.

"I urge the councillors not to go abroad to lobby or negotiate with Freeport bosses. I stress to everybody that every dialog should be held in Papua and involve locals who are suffering from the company's operations," Yosepha said.

"Or else, the likelihood of the company's operations being shut down will only become greater."

Yosepha won the American Goldman Environmental Prize in 2001 for her efforts to save Papua's rain forests from mining and logging.

Human rights group Elsam Papua director Aloysius Renwarin said 15 members of the Papua legislative council's special committee on Freeport planned to visit Freeport McMoran headquarters in New Orleans to convey Papuans' concerns about the company's operations.

They would also demand a fairer share of the firm's profits.

Some Rp 5 billion (about US$535,000) had been allotted from the provincial budget to fund the trip, he said.

Weynand Wattory, a member of the special committee, could not be reached for comment.

However, the secretary of the House of Representatives' working committee on Freeport, Tjatur Sapta Edy, confirmed he had been informed of the plan by Papuan councillors.

"However, every effort to renegotiate the working contract should go through us, the parliament," he told The Jakarta Post.

Renwarin said that should the councillors go ahead with the visit, "we (the House) would reject any results of the negotiations held in the U.S."

Peter Yanwarin, leader of the Komoro tribe, which claims ulayat rights over the land used by Freeport to dispose billions of tons of its mine tailings, and Timika church leader Father John Djonga said the visit would be undignified.

"They (Freeport) are the guests and we are the hosts. They are the one who should respect us by coming here and having an equal and honorable dialog," John said.

The House's working committee has expressed its desire to renegotiate the 1991 working contract signed between Freeport and the government to increase the state's shares in the company from the present 10 percent to 50 percent.

The government, meanwhile, is looking for only a 10-20 percent increase.

Freeport has repeatedly denied its operations have neglected environmental management and development objectives, saying it spent $84 million on the two areas last year.

The miner says a renegotiation of the working contract could only take place if the government and company management agreed to it.

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