Armed groups blockade Papuan villages
Timika, Papua: An armed Papuan group has occupied two villages near the massive Grasberg copper-gold mine as tensions escalate in the restive Indonesian province.
Police said “armed criminal groups” were terrorising the area used by the mine, which is majority owned by US mining giant Freeport McMoRan.
Papuan Police Chief Boy Rafli Amar said the armed group was blockading the villages Banti and Kimbely in Tembagapura, which have a combined population of 1300, raising fears they would run out of food.
Several hundred additional police and military officers have been deployed to the area, prompting fears of further violence.
Papua, one of two Indonesian provinces on the island of New Guinea, is the poorest province in Indonesia and has an active independence movement which has led a low-level insurgency for decades.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has made serious efforts to improve Papua’s economic development, including building roads and increasing access to education, but outbreaks of separatist violence have continued to flare.
Inspector-General Boy said police had tried to open communications with the armed groups and try a “persuasive approach” but its main focus was to “provide protection to the people in the two villages”.
“Of course the officers have to be brave in facing an armed group. Because it’s either we die or they die.”
Mr Boy estimated the armed group had less than 100 members, 25 with firearms and the rest with traditional weapons.
A video purporting to be from the National Liberation Army of West Papua, the armed wing of the Free Papua Organisation, warned it would not negotiate because its fight was for sovereignty, not food or economic development.
“We and Papuans only want independence. We will continue to fight until we achieve independence,” the video says.
“To those Papuans working with the TNI [military] and police, we are declaring you as our enemy. It’s clear you are our enemy, whatever form you come to us you will lose your lives.”
The National Liberation Army of West Papua also told Indonesian authorities to stop referring to it as an “armed criminal group”, saying it had existed since before Papua was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely-discredited UN-backed referendum in 1969.
Victor Yeimo, the chairman of the pro-independence West Papuan National Committee, posted the video on his Facebook account.
“It’s the real thing,” he told Fairfax Media. “The National Liberation Army of West Papua chose Freeport because it’s the reason behind all that [has] happened in Papua. Capitalism.”
In an earlier video, the National Liberation Army of West Papua said the main reason Papua was integrated into Indonesia was a conspiracy between the US and Indonesia to exploit Papua for the Freeport mine.
“That resulted in the colonisation of Papua lands by foreign capitalism and the Indonesian government. That’s why we continue in our fight to destroy Freeport.”
There has been increasing unrest in the area in recent weeks. A series of shootings left one police officer dead and an ambulance belonging to Freeport was shot at, wounding a woman who had just given birth.
Freeport spokesman Riza Pratama said the mining company was “deeply concerned” over the continued escalation of security incidents.
He said Grasberg’s operations were running normally, but workers were being transferred to and from the mine in armoured buses.
“We are continuously working together with security apparatus to stop these disturbing incidents,” he said.
One Freeport worker, whose wife and child lived in one of the occupied villages, told Fairfax Media he prayed they would be evacuated soon.
“Just help my family with prayers,” he said.
Villagers from the two blockaded towns, many of whom are illegal gold miners, originally from other parts of Indonesia, were scared of running out of food.
“We have 113 members up there,” a member of the Javanese community, who requested anonymity, said.
He said villagers’ mobile phones had been confiscated, but he had managed to get in touch with someone who had hidden their phone.
The man said the road to the village of Kimberly was being guarded and the villagers dared not leave. “They are scared how they are going to eat. I am their family. I am very worried.”
In a recent report, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said despite giving more personal attention to Papua than any previous president since Suharto, the government had made three miscalculations in its policies.
These were that economic development would make political grievances go away, that past human rights violations would be easy to resolve and that fraudulent local elections could be safely ignored.
“The political wing of the independence movement inside Papua has grown more active, not less,” the report says. /**/