MAC: Mines and Communities

"Expert Confirms Newcrest links with armed forces"

Published by MAC on 2004-01-15

"Expert Confirms Newcrest links with armed forces"

Saturday, 10th January 2004. ­ Media Release, MPI

Newcrest's denials have been refuted by an Australian expert as rights groups slam the company for failing to respect the land rights of Indigenous people around its Togaruci mine on Halmahera Island, Indonesia, and paying paramilitary forces to silence the locals concerns; culminating in savage beatings and the death of one protester at their Toguraci minesite on Wednesday.

Indonesia specialist Dr Damien Kingsbury, said: 'Newcrest's denial of responsibility for death and injury at the site is contradicted by the company earlier confirming that it pays soldiers and police for protection.' He said that Newcrest spokesman Peter Reeve had confirmed to him that Newcrest directly paid senior officers for protection, and these officers in turn instructed troops under their command. 'Newcrest claiming it is not involved in the killing is not correct.. If this latest violence was not at the direct and specific order of Newcrest, then it was by officers employed by Newcrest acting on Newcrest's behalf,' Dr Kingsbury said.

Dr Kingsbury has been investigating Newcrest's payment to security forces as a part of a study of Indonesian military and police business interests. For several years until December 2003, the Indonesian military received payments from Newcrest in return for acting as security on the company's Gosowong and Toguraci sites.

However, in a speech to the Brisbane Mining Club on November 28 2003, Newcrest chief executive, Tony Palmer, reported that the troops on the proposed Toguraci mine site had refused to evict over 2,000 local people who occupied the minesite in October. Palmer revealed that Newcrest were searching for a replacement force who were willing to do that job. In late November 2003, the military were replaced by a contingent of the notorious BRIMOB (paramilitary police).

BRIMOB have a history of killings at Australian-owned mines. After being asked by Perth-based company, Aurora Gold to keep local people off it's Mt Muro mine lease in Kalimantan, BRIMOB shot and killed two people and injured another five in June 2001, August 2001 and January 2002. Nathan Scholz, a journalist from the Brisbane-based newspaper, The Courier Mail, reported the assembled executives in the Brisbane Mining Club laughed when Newcrest's Tony Palmer outlined plans to use a militia to deal with the protestors at Toguraci.

Newcrest signed its lease to operate the Toguraci gold mine with the corrupt administration of Indonesia's now deposed President Suharto. As with many other contracts signed by the Suharto government, the lease gave Newcrest access to land occupied by indigenous people without due consultation and consent. Since mid-last year, local communities have been seeking negotiations with the company, asking that their traditional land rights be respected. Despite receiving several letters signed by local leaders including the heads of 38 local villages, the company has refused. Newcrest general manager of corporate affairs Peter Reeve commented to AAP on Jan 8: "We have a permit and approval to mine there, and the government supports that position, those people can negotiate with the government or their local member so we're not in negotiations with those people."

Newcrest has attempted to categorise the locals as "illegal miners' and 'bandits', but MPI site visits during a five week blockade last year confirmed that protesters were made up of community members seeking respect for their traditional rights, who had agreed upon entering the site not to use violence or damage company property.

"Newcrest would certainly be negotiating with the traditional Indigenous owners of land they seek to mine here in Australia, so why aren't they doing the same in Indonesia? Newcrest has used paramilitary forces to avoid negotiations with the local communities whose land they are operating on," stated Techa Beaumont of the Mineal Policy Institute. "Australian
mining operations abroad must be brought into line. The Australia government punishes the misconduct of Australian individuals such as paedophiles for preying on vulnerable people in neighbouring countries, and it is time we did the same and stopped companies such as Newcrest preying on the remote communities in which they operate."

The Mineral Policy Institute calls upon the Australian government to address the misconduct of Australian companies overseas by enacting the Corporate Code of Conduct Bill 2000 to ensure adherence to international environmental and human rights standards.

For further information, contact:
Dr Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University (Melbourne), on (+61) 0439-638834.
Mineral Policy Institute: Igor O'Neill (Jakarta) +62 812 8612 286 or
Techa Beaumont, (Sydney) (+61) 02 9557 9019

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