A Mystery Deepens

A Mystery Deepens

Tempo Magazine, No. 02/X,
September 08-14, 2009

The area around the PT Freeport Indonesia mine continues to be plagued by armed attacks. The mysterious shooters appear to have command of the terrain.

THE sun had not even set on the western horizon as scores of PT Freeport Indonesia employees lined up to board a company bus on Friday last week. There was no talk or light banter. "They said to just wait for your turn, anybody's bus could be fired on," said one of the employees as they passed by carrying a backpack, readying to return home to Tembagapura.

For almost two months, the route between Timika and Tembagapura, Papua, has been in chaos following a series of armed terror attacks. If the 40-mile main route between Tembagapura and the center of the PT Freeport Indonesia mine in Timika is disrupted, the activities of the US-owned company with its headquarters in New Orleans could be badly shaken.

Take Friday two weeks ago, for example. As many as 12 buses transporting around 60 employees were sprayed with a volley of gunfire. The incident occurred at Mile 46-41, an area surrounded by forest. The attack resulted in workers demanding that the employees' organization and the government guarantee their safety.

The armored vehicle deployed to safeguard the employees was of little help. "We would feel safer if there weren't any more escorts," said the workers. "Money comes second, what we want is safety guarantees." The bus was fired on from a distance of some 200 meters. Mobil Brigade (Brimob) troops who had joined the convoy stopped at Mile 41 to stage a counteroffensive. "After an hour we heard an exchange of fire," said one employee. Buses number 02-132 and 02-140 were riddled with bullets, but no one was injured.

The head of the Mimika Confederation of the All-Indonesian Workers Union, Viktor Kabey, has called on workers in the chemical, energy and mining sectors as well as work unit managers to stand firm. The head of the national Chemical, Energy and Mining Trade Union, R. Abdulah, has asked the Mimika trade union to write simultaneous letters to the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police (Polri). "I have asked TNI and Polri to guarantee the safety of workers for the sake of investment continuity in Timika," he said.

Although hit by a never-ending series of terror attacks, production at PT Freeport Indonesia has not yet been disrupted. "Mining and ore processing are still taking place," said PT Freeport spokesperson Mindo Pangaribuan.

Who are the terrorists that security forces seem unable to touch? There is the testimony of residents about two individuals dressed entirely in black on the morning of Saturday July 25. The two ran down a steep road towards a tailings disposal area. Stopping for an instant, they then approached residents who were panning for gold dust among the waters of a muddy river in the vicinity of Mile 38 and 45.

Armed with long-barreled guns, the pair forced residents to disperse. "Those that still have families go home quickly, rather than becoming victims," said one resident mimicking the order given by the pair. "We gathered up our tools and left."

After chasing the residents away, the two heavily-built individuals ran off towards Nayaro village, a residential area near the east levee, the site used for the disposal of Freeport's tailings. "We didn't know that a shooting had occurred at Mile 51 just that morning," said one resident. A vehicle transporting medicines and a number of security posts were also fired on. The bullets were found to have been manufactured by the state-owned arms producer PT Pindad. There were no reports of fatalities.

The dawn shooting incident on Saturday July 11, which resulted in the death of Australian national Drew Nicholas Grant, also remains shrouded in mystery. The bullets that killed him were able to be identified: Pindad-manufactured type DJ 54 5.56-caliber rounds. "Standard TNI/Polri weaponry," said Papua Regional Police Chief, Insp. Gen. Bagus Ekodanto. "The shell casings were not from a homemade weapon, but regulation TNI/Polri weapons."

A Tempo source explained that there was a group that should be held accountable for the series of shooting incidents. This was revealed on Sunday evening, July 12, after earlier in the morning that day Markus Rante Allo, a member of Freeport's security unit, was shot dead. That evening at the Mile 50 security post, five people were questioned after entering the Freeport area without authorization.

"The strange thing was that even though they were carrying weapons, they were released," said the Tempo source. The source produced a photograph of four regulation pistols and a Scorpio type short-range assault pistol that were carried by the group. But this information was refuted by Bagus Ekodanto. "That information is incorrect," he said.

It's difficult to avoid the impression that these mysterious shooters were well trained and have a good knowledge of the terrain. They also had easy access to information. A Tempo source in PT Freeport's security section revealed that all of the locations where shootings occurred were in areas covered by a cellphone network signal. "Including the location where Drew was killed."

The movements of the terrorist group were also recorded by closed-circuit television cameras at several locations. "In the video recording several people can be seen conducting a survey, a day before Drew's shooting," the source said. "Who are they, I'm afraid I can't say."

And after each attack, the group in black clothing with camouflaged faces disappears as if they had been swallowed up by the earth. "When pursued, they always fade away into the Kopi Kali area."

Dwidjo U. Maksum, Tjahjono Ep (Timika)