Indonesia to boost police at Freeport mine

Indonesia to boost police at Freeport mine

The Associated Press , Jakarta
Niniek Karmini

Indonesia is deploying police special forces to end a wave of deadly shootings at the world's largest gold mine run by U.S.-based Freeport in the remote Indonesian province of Papua, a police official said Thursday.

A wave of attacks since Saturday along a road to the mine has marked the worst violence to hit Freeport's operations in the restive province since the murder of three teachers, including two Americans, in August 2002.

At least 15 people, most of them police officers, have been killed or wounded along the 40-mile (65-kilometer) road from Freeport's sprawling Grasberg mining complex to the mountain mining town of Timika.

National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Sulistyo Ishak said "we have decided to increase enforcement measures to restore security."

Police "special forces" would be sent, along with army soldiers, but he did not say how many.

Mindo Pangaribuan, a spokesman for the Indonesian subsidiary of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., said the road has been declared off limits to Freeport workers - numbering around 20,000 excluding on site family members - because of "security reasons."

It was unclear how long the travel ban would last, but the company said it would not affect its business operations.

On Wednesday, five police officers were injured by gunfire and taken to a Freeport-owned hospital, raising the number of wounded to 12, Papua's chief detective, Bambang Rudi, said Thursday.

They were shot in the stomach, hand and thigh when "they were sprayed with bullets," Ishak said, adding that they were all now in stable condition.

Since Saturday, the assailants have shot and killed a 29-year-old Australian and a Freeport security guard, while a policeman fell to his death in a ravine as he sought cover.

Investigators said they still do not know who is behind the shooting spree, but that the ammunition is standard military and police issue.

The manhunt for the perpetrators will be joined by the special forced and military reinforcements with "certain targets," Ishak said.

Authorities initially blamed the ambushes on Papuan separatists with the Free Papua Movement, OPM, who have waged a low-level insurgency for 40 years. But official statements now refer to "an armed group" of professional marksmen.

Several analysts have suggested that the violence is likely the result of a long-standing rivalry between paramilitary police units and soldiers competing for control of illegal multimillion-dollar protection and gold mining businesses around Freeport.

Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono asked people to refrain from speculating on police rivalry in comments to the Jakarta Foreign Correspondent's Club Wednesday. However, he said that "rouge elements" in the military might have a hand in the unrest.

"My own suspicion is there are criminal groups from within and outside Papua who have seen this as a lucrative business and it may be a battle over access," he said, estimating that illegal gold mining at the edges of Freeport's mining complex could earn a miner up to $3,500 per month - more than three times a minimum wage salary in Indonesia.

Papua, a desperately poor mountain province, lies some 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) east of the capital, Jakarta. Since Arizona-based Freeport opened its operations under the U.S.-backed Suharto dictatorship various opponents have targeted its activities.

The province, known as West Papua during Indonesia's Dutch colonization, was gradually transferred to Indonesian rule in the 1960s after a stage-managed vote by community leaders. A highly militarized zone, it is off limits to foreign journalists.

Many local activists are resentful because Freeport earns billions of dollars in profit from Papua's natural resources while the people remain overwhelmingly poor.

Associated Press reporters Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.