MAC: Mines and Communities

More shooting on road to Freeport's Indonesian gold mine

Published by MAC on 2009-08-03
Source: Niniek Karmini, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Gunmen fired Wednesday at vehicles operated by U.S. mining company Freeport in Indonesia's impoverished Papua province, injuring two guards and a policeman in the latest attack on the world's largest gold mine, police said.

A few miles (kilometres) away on the same road leading to the mine, a policeman died and an officer and two soldiers were injured in a car accident, national police spokesman Nanan Sukarna said.

There were conflicting reports about the number of dead and injured in the two incidents. Initial reports from witnesses said two people were killed in the shooting, but officials could not confirm those accounts.

Freeport said in a statement that three people sustained "minor injuries" after their vehicle was shot at, but it did not identify them or say if they were in Freeport cars.

Sukarna said the unknown assailants escaped into the jungle. He said three people were hit by shrapnel.

Sukarna said one policeman died in the car accident, but local police chief Lt. Col. Godhelp Mansnembra said two police officers died when their car flipped "while driving at high speed through a dangerous area" a few miles (kilometres) away.

The incidents came a day after authorities said they had rounded up 15 suspects allegedly involved in the killing or wounding of at least a dozen people in shootings since July 11, including the death of a 29-year-old Australian Freeport employee and a policeman.

Earlier, the Antara state news agency reported that Wednesday's shooting targeted a convoy of 12 buses carrying hundreds of employees who have been unable to return to work because of the recent violence. It said the buses were turned back.

But Freeport said in its statement that no shots were fired at the bus convoy.

An Associated Press reporter was told by a policeman that several injured officers were taken to a local clinic, one of them in critical condition. He said two body bags were later removed. The policeman declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Arizona-based Freeport has been targeted with arson, roadside bombs and blockades since production began in the 1970s during the U.S.-backed Suharto dictatorship.

Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson said Tuesday that six of the 15 arrested people had been charged, including a man who apparently acknowledged being a sniper.

"We have been assured from the highest levels of government in Indonesia they are committed to provide safety for our people and for our operations," Adkerson said in a conference call detailing the company's latest earnings.

Freeport staff were ordered to stop travelling on the road to the mine last week, and hundreds have been unable to return to work.

A PT Freeport spokesman in Indonesia, Mindo Pangaribuan, said early Wednesday that "secure transportations have been arranged to transport personnel and deliver supplies."

Papua is home to a four-decade-old, low-level insurgency against the government, and members of the Free Papua Movement - who see Freeport as a symbol of outside rule - were initially blamed by authorities for the latest violence.

Some analysts, however, believe the shootings resulted from a rivalry between the police and military over multimillion-dollar illegal gold mining or protection businesses at the mine. Others blame criminal gangs.

The shootings were the worst violence at Freeport since the killing of three schoolteachers, including two Americans, in August 2002 that sparked widespread protests by local residents who feel they are not benefiting from the depletion of Papua's natural resources.

Freeport employs about 20,000 people in Papua, where it has extracted billions of dollars worth of gold and copper and still has some of the largest reserves in the world. Freeport is one of the top taxpayers to the Indonesian government, which is also a minority stake holder.

Papua, a desperately poor mountain province, lies on the western half of New Guinea island, some 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometres) east of the capital, Jakarta.

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