Indonesian security forces open fire on West Papuan striking miners – kill one

Pacific Scoop - by Karen Abplanalp
Indonesian security forces have shot and killed at least one protester and wounded eight others when they opened fire on striking workers at Freeport-McMoRan’s gold and copper mine in West Papua, union officials said.

Union leader Manuel Maniambo said thousands of striking workers were trying to prevent replacement workers from heading by bus to the mine.

Blocked by security forces, some protesters began throwing rocks. Three food delivery trucks were burnt, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene.

The security forces began firing shots and at least one man was killed, one more unconfirmed dead, one man critically injured and at least 8 men wounded.

The dead man has been identified as 30-year-old Petrus Ayemsekaba.

Indonesian security forces said six of their men were also hurt during the demonstration.

Around 9000 workers from the Grasberg mine in West Papua began the strike on September 15, demanding that their current minimum wage of less than NZ$2.50 an hour be raised to globally competitive levels.

Lowest wages
Union representatives say that Freeport’s workers, who are mostly indigenous West Papuans, receive the lowest wages of any Freeport mining facility in the world.

Concerns for the miners safety has been mounting recently as reports of intimidation of union officials were reported.

Union spokesperson Juli Parrongan said: “Our personal safety going on strike is under pressure of the PT Freeport Indonesia management.”

Union officials have been complaining that PTFreeport, (the Indonesian unit of US-owned mining firm Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold Inc.) management has been breaking Indonesian laws regarding fair strike actions since the strike began.

The union has said the striking miners have been intimidated into going back to work and to signing contracts.

Workers in Indonesia have been granted the right to strike, and under Indonesian law, they are able to do this free from intimidation.

Reinforcements sent
In preparation for the strike, military and police reinforcements were sent to Timika, the closest town to the mine.

The Papua Police dispatched an extra 114 police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) personnel to Timika with an additional 100 Brimob personnel from Jakarta to join 850 personnel from the Indonesian military (TNI)-police joint task force.

AFP quoted police spokesman Wachyono as saying: “So far, five policemen suffered head injuries and another had his leg injured from being pelted with stones by workers. They have been taken to hospital.”

Police fired warning shots into the air after the striking workers pelted them with stones, Wachyono said, in scenes witnessed by an AFP reporter at the site.

The Indonesian military and the Indonesian police are now under the international spotlight in the hope that its track record of human rights abuses in West Papua are not repeated during the current miners strike.

As chair of ASEAN Indonesia, with its goal to make ASEAN a people-centered community, it has a good incentive to be seen as a democratic country, free of human rights abuses.

Karen Abplanalp is an Auckland photographer and also an AUT University postgraduate student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course.