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Freeport halts work amid
sabotage, separatist pleas

The local division of US gold and copper giant Freeport McMoran, halted mining operations in Papua on Monday, amid a strike that has led to a deteriorating security situation and intensified calls for independence.

PT Freeport Indonesia froze the operation of its Grasberg open pit mine and its deep ore zone mining facility due to sabotage and security concerns, following road blocks set up by striking workers and the killing of three people by unidentified gunmen last week.

“Our pipeline has been cut in several places. We can no longer send concentrate,” Freeport vice president for open pit operations Nurhadi Sabirin said.

“The situation has forced us to stop the entire operation in the processing plant, as well as in the open pit and in the underground block cave,” he said.

Freeport spokesperson Ramdani Sirait said several roads leading to the company’s mine sites were blocked by striking workers, including the road at the Mile 28 checkpoint in Timika, the closest town to Grasberg, which holds the world’s largest single reserves of copper and gold.

“The blockades automatically closed access to and from our work area. One of the effects is that many containers carrying [supplies for] the operational needs and daily needs of families at the mining sites have been stranded at the harbor,” Ramdani said.

The killings and road blocks show a grim turn of events after Freeport workers went on strike on Sept. 15 to demand higher salaries.

About 8,000 workers, about 70 percent of workers at the Grasberg mine, joined the strike, which led to the fatal shooting of two strikers during a standoff with the police at the Gorong-Gorong bus terminal in Timika, around 70 kilometers from the Grasberg mine, on Oct. 10.

As the police continue to investigate the shootings, a bigger incident erupted on Friday when unidentified gunmen shot at a Freeport truck, killing three workers and badly injuring three others.

The shooting followed a union offer to reduce its demands for wages to US$7.50 to $33 an hour, down from an initial demand of $35 to $200 an hour. The workers are currently paid $1.50 to $3.50 an hour.

“The incidents have triggered blockades and the destruction of several facilities and created a chaotic situation,” Freeport chief administration officer Sinta Sirait said.

“Our workers are requesting security guarantees from the authorities.”

The increasing chaos followed repeated calls from politicians and officials for the government to renegotiate its contract with Freeport. The government said the contract, renewed in 1991 and due to expire in 2021, had positioned Indonesia on the losing side.

Separately, around 5,000 people thronged Zhakeus Field in Jayapura, around 450 kilometers from Timika, on Monday to attend the opening of the 3rd Papuan People’s Congress, which runs until Oct. 19.

At the opening of the congress, Rev.Max Ebe called on Papua to wage a struggle for independence from
Indonesia.

“Papuans have long suffered. There have been elaborate killings of us by the Indonesian authorities. That’s why I call on all of you to free yourself from Indonesian rule,” Max said. Most Papuans have a deep respect and loyalty for their religious leaders.

The Bintang Kejora — the outlawed separatist flag — was seen hoisted during a dance performance at the event.

Papua, Indonesia’s poorest and most remote province, is one of the world’s most fortified areas, with large numbers of police, military and security personnel in a province of only 2.85 million people.

Many have expressed concern that the situation in Papua might spiral out of control, given the potential
for a horizontal conflict between supporters of the independence movement and Papuans loyal to Indonesia.

Members of the Merah Putih group in Papua objected to the People’s Congress, claiming it would undermine the integrity of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), and lead to separation from the NKRI.

“We, the sons and daughters of the West Irian freedom fighters, are against activities that intend to separate us from the NKRI. We are ready to divide and defend Papua within the NKRI,” Izaak Samuel Karubaba, head of the Children of Papua and West Irian Freedom Fighters Communications Forum, told reporters in Jayapura. (rcf)

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