Tag Archives: Freeport

Papua shooting shuts down Freeport route

West Papuans have long expressed frustration about the environmental destruction caused by the Freeport mine operations in Mimika regency. Photo: MIneral Policy Institute

Reuters | Radio New Zealand | 13 November 2017

The Indonesian unit of Freeport-McMoRan has temporarily shut the main supply route to its Papua mine after a shooting incident, a spokesman says, amid escalating tensions between security forces and an armed Papuan group in the area.

No one had been reported hurt after shots were fired at a vehicle, but the main supply route to the world’s second-biggest copper mine had been temporarily closed while the security situation was assessed, Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said in text message.

Authorities in Indonesia’s eastern province of Papua are delivering food and aid to villages near the mine where security forces say the rebel group has blocked residents’ movement, as security personnel surround the area, a police official said.

Police said a group linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) was preventing about 1000 people from leaving five villages near the Grasberg mine operated by the US company.

“We continue to try a persuasive approach and dialogue,” said Viktor Mackbon, police chief of the Mimika area, where the villages are located. Talks with the group would be conducted through public and religious figures in the region, he added.

Officials on Saturday said about 200 police and military personnel had been deployed in preparation to secure the area by force, if necessary.

Police said they will distribute, on Monday, a notice in the area for the “armed criminal group” to give themselves up and surrender weapons.

Reuters could not immediately reach members of the rebel group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), to seek comment.

On Friday, the group denied occupying villages near the mine, but said it was “at war” with the police, military, and Freeport.

A resident from one of the villages, Banti, said security forces had blocked access to the village.

Residents he had spoken were not being held hostage by separatists but “are only worried about what might happen if the police and military come into their area”, he said.

A state of emergency has been declared in the area and security stepped up after a string of shootings since August 17 that killed one police officer and wounded six.

Papua has had a long-running, and sometimes violent, separatist movement since it was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969.

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Papua separatists dispute Indonesia claim of hostage taking

The giant Grasberg open-pit copper and gold mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. Photo by Alfindra Primaldhi/Wikimedia Commons

Associated Press | November 10, 2017

A member of an armed separatist group in Indonesia’s Papua region has disputed police claims that it’s holding villagers hostage during a standoff with security forces.

The remote region’s long-simmering insurgency has flared in the past month, with one paramilitary police officer killed and six others wounded in attacks by the National Liberation Army of West Papua. The two sides are also waging a PR war, with police calling the group an armed criminal gang and accusing it of attacks on civilians.

Hendrik Wanmang, who described himself as a commander of the armed group that goes by the Indonesian acronym TNP, said in an interview Friday that Banti and Kimbeli villagers can’t go to an area the separatists define as a battlefield with security forces because it’s unsafe. But otherwise villagers are free to go to their farms and move about as they please, he said.

Police on Thursday said a group of about 100 including 25 gunmen were occupying the two villages and preventing 1,300 people from leaving. Several hundred of the people are migrant workers from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

“It’s not true, it’s only the provocation of Indonesian military and police with the aim of damaging our image,” Wanmang told The Associated Press. “People there are safe, both natives and non-natives are free to do activities as usual.”

Wanmang was one of two commanders who signed an Oct. 21 statement warning of unspecified retribution against security forces for alleged brutality against indigenous Papuans.

The letter declared an area near the U.S.-owned Grasberg gold and copper mine as a battlefield.

The mine owned by Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. is a source of tension in the region due to environmental damage and indigenous Papuans’ resentment at profits from local resources being sent abroad.

A low-level insurgency for independence has simmered in Papua since it was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule in 1963. The region, which makes up the western half of the island of New Guinea, was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 following a U.N.-sponsored ballot of tribal leaders that has since been dismissed as a sham.

Indonesia maintains a heavy security presence in the region and restricts foreign journalists from freely reporting there.

Wanmang said police descriptions of TNP as an armed criminal group and accusations of crimes against civilians were a tactic to discredit the Papuan independence movement.

“We are not a new group, we are not a criminal group,” he said. “We are separatist group who fought for Papua from generation to generation demanding the sovereignty of the people of Papua, demanding Papuan independence, separate from Indonesia.”

Security minister Wiranto, who goes by one name, has asked security officials to peacefully persuade the separatists to leave.

Military commander Gatot Nurmantyo said in a statement Friday that the villagers are “hostages” and the military is conducting surveillance of their villages. With police, it hopes to negotiate a solution but is readying other measures.

“We are also preparing ways that are hard and must be done very thoroughly,” he said. “Currently we are working closely with police and setting up a joint team in handling the problem.”

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Separatist violence threatens to disrupt Freeport’s Indonesia mine

Fergus JensenAgustinus Beo Da CostaSam Wanda | Reuters | 9 November 2017

Armed separatists have occupied five villages in Indonesia’s Papua province, threatening to disrupt Freeport-McMoRan Inc’s giant Grasberg copper mine, which has already been hit this year by labour unrest and a dispute over operating rights.

A state of emergency has been declared and around 300 additional security forces have been deployed to the mining area of the eastern province after a string of shootings since Aug. 17 that killed one police officer and wounded six.

“They want to disrupt Freeport’s operations,” said Suryadi Diaz, a spokesman for the Papua police.

“(Freeport) is rich but they are poor, so they just want justice,” Diaz said, adding that the militants were a splinter group of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said the company was “deeply concerned” about security and was using armoured cars and helicopters to ferry workers to and from the Grasberg mine in the province’s Mimika regency.

He said attacks had been launched along the road near the town of Tembagapura, about 10 km (6 miles) from the mine, where families of employees – including expatriates – live.

He added that so far there had been no impact on production and shipments from Grasberg, the world’s second-biggest copper mine.

Last year Freeport Indonesia contributed about a quarter of the parent company’s global sales of 4.23 billion pounds (1.92 million tonnes) of copper.

Arizona-based Freeport, the world’s largest publicly listed copper producer, has already been grappling with labour problems at Grasberg and a lengthy dispute with the Indonesian government over rights to the mine.

The mine has also be dogged by major concerns over security due to a low-level conflict waged by pro-independence rebels in Papua for decades. Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine project area killed 20 people and wounded 59.

Papua and neighbouring West Papua provinces make up the western half of an island north of Australia, with independent Papua New Guinea to the east. The provinces have been plagued by separatist violence since they were incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

President Joko Widodo has sought to ease tension in the two provinces by stepping up investment, freeing political prisoners and addressing human rights concerns.

Police spokesman Diaz said around 1,000 local residents and migrant workers who pan for gold in Mimika were being prevented by the separatists from leaving the five villages.

Security forces had entered the occupied area on Thursday, police and military sources told Reuters, but it was not clear if they had been able to evacuate any of the residents.

“Perhaps they feel envious with the company’s presence,” Papua Police chief Boy Rafli Amar told Reuters. “We are trying to maximise protection for the community … because people have been raped and some have had goods stolen.”

In one attack in late October, shots were fired through the windscreen of an ambulance that was ferrying a villager who had just given birth, police said.

The water supply of Tembagapura town had also been contaminated with kerosene, Boy said, but police had not been able to ascertain if it was an act of sabotage carried out by the same group behind the shootings.

“JUST WILD THIEVES”

In a video purported to come from the National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), part of the OPM group, dated Sept. 29, a guerrilla action coordinator named as Joni Beanal reads out an open letter warning of attacks on Freeport in order “to destroy it”.

“The main reason for the integration of Papua into Indonesia was a conspiracy by America and Indonesia in the interests of mining exploitation by Freeport MacMoran in Papuan soil,” the coordinator said on the video, which was seen by Reuters.

Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the video. Papua police spokesman Diaz dismissed the recording as “old”.

Papua Military Commander Major General George Elnadus Supit said the TPN-OPM posed no significant threat and were “just wild thieves who are perhaps being used by a separatist group”.

Concord Consulting group warned that a harsh crackdown on the militant group could “backfire” if security forces were unable to prevent civilian casualties.

“Militants in Mimika will be able to hide among the local population – many of whom share their rejection of Indonesian rule,” the security consultancy said in a note on Wednesday.

Freeport contributed $20 million towards Indonesian government-provided security protecting workers and infrastructure in 2016, about one-third of its local security budget.

The company paid $668 million to the Indonesian government last year in income taxes, royalties and export duties, making it one of the country’s single largest taxpayers.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in neighbouring Papua New Guinea was abandoned in 1989 after a campaign of sabotage by the rebel Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Echoing the situation in Papua, there was deep resentment among the indigenous Bougainville people about the wealth going to the Papua New Guinea central government and the mine’s then operator, Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd, a forerunner of Rio Tinto .

(Reporting by Fergus Jensen and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in JAKARTA; Additional reporting by Sam Wanda in TIMIKA; Editing by John Chalmers and Alex Richardson)

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Grasberg mine’s riches still a distant glitter for Papuan communities

Panorama from high up at the Grasberg gold and copper mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. Photo by Richard Jones/flickr.

Hans Nicholas Jong | Mongabay | 13 October 2017

  • Through its local subsidiary, US-based Freeport-McMoRan operates the world’s largest and most profitable gold mine in Indonesia’s Papua province.
  • Changes to Indonesia’s mining laws earlier this year raised hopes that Papua’s indigenous people might finally get a stake in the mine.
  • With negotiations between the government and the company snagging on key issues, activists say these hopes may be premature.

High hopes that the world’s biggest gold mine will finally bring meaningful benefit to the community for which it has for decades been a source of contention have been deflated as negotiations hit a wall.

Freeport McMoRan Inc. (FCX) and the Indonesian government are currently hashing out the details of a long-term agreement for an extension of the company’s contract to operate the giant Grasberg gold and copper mine in Papua province, due to expire in 2021.

Freeport announced in August that it had agreed to divest a 51 percent stake in its Indonesian subsidiary, PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), in which it currently holds a 90.64 percent stake, following sustained pressure by the government to reform a mining sector long seen as not doing enough to benefit local communities or contribute to the national economy.

As part of broader changes to Indonesia’s mining law, the government has required that all mining firms build smelters in-country; convert their existing contracts into more flexible permits; and, for those with a foreign majority shareholder, divest a 51 percent stake in their operations to local partners within a decade of the mines coming into production.

Freeport’s announcement was cheered by Indonesians, many of whom believe the country has been getting the short end of the stick in its business dealings with foreign miners.

The indigenous inhabitants of Papua, in particular, welcomed the announcement, hoping the redrawn contract would finally address the impact of the company’s mining operations on the local community and improve their welfare.

But as negotiations between Freeport and the government stall over the terms of the divestment, the role Papuans will play in determining the future of the mining project is once again shrouded in uncertainty.

A map of the Grasberg mine in Papua. Image by AK Rockefeller/flickr.

Sharing the wealth

In 2016 alone, Freeport’s Indonesian operations generated $3.8 billion in revenue for the parent company. Yet despite having the world’s most profitable gold mine, Papua remains Indonesia’s poorest province, where 28 percent of the people live below the poverty line. It also has some of the worst infant mortality and literacy rates in Asia.

To ensure that some of the mine’s revenues trickle down to Papuans, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan has said that up to 10 percent of PTFI’s shares should be reserved for the Papuan government and indigenous Papuan people.

But Freeport has balked at the details of the government’s plan to manage the divestment. In a letter dated Sept. 28, the company expressed strong disagreement with the valuation, timing and structure put forward by the government.

The government has proposed acquiring a majority stake in PTFI by the end of 2018, but Freeport wants the divestment to take place in stages over a period of several years. It also wants the first batch of shares to be offered publicly through the stock exchange, rather than allocated directly to the government.

The price is another sticking point. Last year Freeport offered to divest a 10.64 percent stake in PTFI for $1.7 billion, which would give a valuation of around $8.1 billion for a 51 percent stake. Jonan, however, has called for a much lower figure. Conflating FCX’s market capitalization on the New York Stock Exchange and its share of revenue from PTFI, the minister argues that the fair value for a 51 percent stake in the Indonesian operator should be $4 billion.

Any hopes for immediate benefits as a result of the divestment, particularly the promised 10 percent stake for Papuans, have diminished as a result of the impasse.

Maryati Abdullah, the national coordinator of mining sector watchdog Publish What You Pay Indonesia, said such disagreements should have been foreseen. “The contentions in the negotiation process were predictable. So any claims of victory after the divestment agreement [in August] were premature, given that there are still many details that haven’t been agreed upon,” she told Mongabay. “As long as there’s no written agreement, there’s a high chance that things could still change.”

A woman from the Korowai tribe, who live in southeastern West Papua in the Indonesian Province of Papua. Photo by Mari/flickr.

‘Our nature is damaged’

Community leaders in Papua argue they should be involved in the ongoing negotiations, regardless of whether Papuans get a share in PTFI.

A group representing various indigenous tribes affected by PTFI’s mining operation met with Jonan last month to discuss the issue.

“We hope we will be involved in the negotiation of the details of the agreement and that a good deal will be given be to the local people,” said Odizeus Beanal, a representative of the Amungme tribe, whose highland home is where Grasberg is located. “Our hope in the future is for an agreement to be reached for indigenous people.”

Also affected by PTFI’s operations are the Kamoro, a lowland people whose ancestral territory is the site of Freeport’s mining town of Timika. The Amungme and Kamoro have traditionally subsisted on sustainable agriculture, fishing and hunting. But the opening of the mine in 1967 disrupted their lives, stripping them of their rights to 100,000 hectares (247,100 acres) of their ancestral lands. They have been further displaced and marginalized by migrants from elsewhere across Indonesia drawn to the mining boomtown.

Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), a state-funded body, said earlier this year that PTFI had never compensated the Amungme and the Kamoro as the original stewards of the land where it operates. It characterized Freeport’s concession as a land grab.

“The land that could be used to live on has been contaminated with chemicals,” Daniel Beanal, a Kamoro elder, told presidential staffers at a meeting earlier this year. “Our nature is damaged. The mountain is filled with holes. I’ve never received anything from Freeport.”

Beanal argued it would be best for PTFI to cease operations, a call echoed by another Kamoro elder, Nicolaus Kanunggok.

“Our aspiration is clear: to close and audit [PTFI] first. We’re not asking for a share, not even a single percent. Close the operation first, and then audit [them],” Kanunggok said.

The giant Grasberg open-pit copper and gold mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. US-based mining giant Freeport McMoRan, which operates the mine, was also granted an exemption from the 1999 Forestry Law. Photo by Alfindra Primaldhi/Wikimedia Commons

Audit findings

A recent report by Indonesia’s Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) identified a wide range of irregularities in PTFI’s operations and its current contract.

Eleven of the issues were attributed to weak management by the government, while 10 pointed to violations of regulations by PTFI. These include indications of reckless mining, and the dumping of mining waste into rivers, forests and the sea. An earlier review by the agency estimated the environmental damage from the company’s operations at 185 trillion rupiah ($13.7 billion).

PTFI spokesman Riza Pratama said the company manages its waste in accordance with the terms set out in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approved by the government in 1997. “We are operating in accordance with our mining contract and [mining waste processing and disposal] has been regulated in it,” he told Mongabay.

Noak Kapisa, the head of Papua’s environmental agency, said PTFI should pay for the environmental damage identified by the audit agency. “If the damage is done inside Freeport’s areas, then it has to fix it,” he told Mongabay. Kapisa also called on the government to revoke the company’s EIA, which is in the process of being renewed, if PTFI refuses to make amends for the environmental damage it has caused.

The BPK also found that Freeport had used 4,536 hectares (11,208 acres) of protected forest area without obtaining the proper permits, costing the government $20 million in lost fees between 2008 and 2015.

Riza declined to comment on this finding when asked by Mongabay.

View from the Grasberg open-pit copper and gold mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. Photo by Richard Jones/flickr.

Pitfalls and progress

As things stand, there is no guarantee of more environmentally sound mining operations once Freeport has relinquished a 51 percent stake in PTFI.

That’s because Freeport has insisted on retaining operational control of its subsidiary until 2041, even if the government holds the majority of PTFI shares. Should the miner get its way, Indonesia would have no leverage in the deal, according to PWYP Indonesia advocacy manager Aryanto Nugroho.

For instance, he argues, Freeport could refuse to pay dividends to the government by saying it needs the money to cover expenses like building a smelter, which it is required to do under the new mining law.

“Even if the government held the majority of shares, if FCX still retained operation control, what could we do? So there are traps like that,” Nugroho told Mongabay.

The government must ensure that Freeport pays all its obligations, including for environmental damage, before the divestment is done, says Henri Subagiyo, executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), an NGO.

“If the obligations are paid before the takeover, there won’t be many problems. But if the obligations [are held over until] after the takeover, then who would bear the burden?” Subagiyo told Mongabay. “If the government has the majority of shares, then the government would have the obligations [to pay for the damage]. If Papuans get a stake, they would bear the risk as well.”

Activists have urged the government to use the BPK’s findings as a basis in the negotiations with Freeport.

“These problems have to be probed further and discussed during the renegotiation process of Freeport’s mining contract,” said PWYP Indonesia’s Abdullah. “Environmental problems are no less important than other problems in the renegotiation, which are mainly financial, such as tax, divestment and the obligation to build smelters in Indonesia.”

President Joko Widodo has said the government is seeking a win-win solution as quickly as possible. But with neither side seeing eye to eye on the key issues, it remains unclear when the negotiations will conclude.

Additional reporting by Basten Gokkon.

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The $100bn gold mine and the West Papuans who say they are counting the cost

Grasberg mine in the Indonesian province has been a source of untold wealth for its owners, but local communities say it has brought poverty and oppression

The delta of West Papua’s Aikwa river, on Kamoro tribe land. Papuans claim tailing sediment from the mine has suffocated the fish and shrimp on which their diet and economy are based. All photographs: Susan Schulman

The delta of West Papua’s Aikwa river, on Kamoro tribe land. Papuans claim tailing sediment from the mine has suffocated the fish and shrimp on which their diet and economy are based. All photographs: Susan Schulman

Susan Schulman | The Guardian | 2 November 2016

In 1936, Dutch geologist Jean Jacques Dozy climbed the world’s highest island peak: the forbidding Mount Carstensz, a snow-covered silver crag on what was then known as Dutch New Guinea. During the 4,800-metre ascent, Dozy noticed an unusual rock outcrop veined with green streaks. Samples he brought back confirmed exceptionally rich gold and copper deposits.

Today, these remote, sharp-edged mountains are part of West Papua, Indonesia’s largest province, and home to the Grasberg mine, one of the biggest gold mines – and third largest copper mine – in the world. Majority-owned by the American mining firm Freeport McMoRan, Grasberg is now Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, with reserves worth an estimated $100bn (£80bn).

But a recent fact-finding mission (by the Brisbane Archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission) described a “slow-motion genocide” (pdf) taking place in West Papua, warning that its indigenous population is at risk of becoming “an anthropological museum exhibit of a bygone culture”.

grasberg-map

Since the Suharto dictatorship annexed the region in a 1969 UN referendum largely seen as a fixed land grab, an estimated 500,000 West Papuans have been killed in their fight for self-rule. Decades of military and police oppression, kidnapping and torture have created a long-standing culture of fear. Local and foreign journalists are routinely banned, detained, beaten and forced to face trialon trumped-up charges. Undercover police regularly trail indigenous religious, social and political leaders. And children still in primary school have been jailed for taking part in demonstrations calling for independence from Indonesia.

“There is no justice in this country,” whispered one indigenous villager on condition of anonymity, looking over his shoulder fearfully. “It is an island without law.”

****

Dozy had not set out to find gold in 1936; his goal was to scale the region’s highest glacial peak. But his discovery sparked the interest of Freeport Sulphur – later to become Freeport Minerals Company and then, through a 1981 merger with the McMoRan Oil and Gas Company, Freeport McMoRan – whose board of directors included the well-connected Godfrey Rockefeller (serving from 1931 until the early 1980s) and Henry Kissinger (1988-1995).

Today, indigenous tribes such as the Kamoro and the Amungme claim their communities have been racked with poverty, disease, oppression and environmental degradation since the mine began operations in 1973.

“We are a coastal people, and we depend on the environment,” says the Kamoro’s chief, Hironimus Urmani, in Tipuka, a lowland village down-river from the Grasberg mine. “Nature is a blessing from God, and we are known by the three Ss: sago [trees], sampan [canoes] and sungai[rivers]. But life is very difficult now.”

Urmani motions to the river opposite, languishing green and motionless. He claims that tailing sediment from the mine has raised the riverbed, suffocating the fish, oysters and shrimp on which the Kamoro diet and economy are traditionally based. A 2012 report from Earthworks and Mining Watch Canada asserts that mine waste from Grasberg has “buried over 166 square kilometres of formerly productive forest and wetlands, and fish have largely disappeared”.

Although most Kamoro still try to eke out a living fishing and foraging for food, they struggle to find paid work, says Urmani. “We need to earn money. But now we face major competition from non-Papuan migrants.”

Locals fear that the government’s controversial transmigration programme, which resettles Indonesians from high-density islands such as Java to low-population areas, is wiping out their population completely. Indigenous Melanesian Christians – they comprised 96% of the population in 1971 – now make up a 48% minority, with numbers expected to fall to 29% by 2020 if migration rates continue.

Ethnic Papuans will make up just 29% of the population by 2020
west-papua-demographics

Clashes between the indigenous Christians – and migrant Indonesian Muslims – have also resulted in riots, fires and injuries.

“Land has been taken away, directly by Freeport … and indirectly, as the Indonesian settlers have appropriated it,” says Dr Agus Sumule, professor of agricultural socio-economics at the province’s University of Papua.

“The stresses [on indigenous people] are intense,” says Sumule. “They have been very negatively impacted.”

The Indonesian government signed over to Freeport the right to extract mineral wealth from the Grasberg site in West Papua in 1967. A 2002 report from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) details that land agreements were not negotiated with the Amungme until 1974, a year after the mine opened, and with the Kamoro in 1997.

The compensation paid for Kamoro and Amungme land has been mainly in the form of communal benefits, such as the building of homes, schools and places of worship. The IIED report notes, “Perceptions of land rights and historic compensation claims are a continuing source of dissatisfaction and conflict in the mining area.”

Recent census data shows Papua’s GDP per capita at $3,510, compared to the Indonesian average of $2,452. Yet Papua has the highest poverty rate in the country, nearly three times the national average. It also has the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates in Indonesia, as well as the worst health indicators, and the poorest literacy rates.

The scale of destitution is best observed from the highland Amungme village of Banti, just 20 miles down from the Grasberg mine.

The river Aikwa, near Banti, is turned thick and silver with the tailings from the mine. Here, artisanal miners pan the tailings for gold.

The river Aikwa, near Banti, is turned thick and silver with the tailings from the mine. Here, artisanal miners pan the tailings for gold.

Estimates from Earthworks suggest that Freeport dumps as much as 200,000 tonnes of mine waste, known as tailings, directly into the Aikwa delta system every day. The practice has devastated the environment, according to Earthworks and locals, turning thousands of hectares of verdant forest and mangroves into wasteland and rendering turgid the once-crystal waters of the highlands.

The tailings from the Grasberg mine are so rich with ore that Papuans walk for as long as a week to get here. Crowding the length of the river and the delta wasteland, thousands of unlicensed panners shore up small sections to slow the river’s flow and dig into the thick sediment on the side.

Although some of these panners are located within Freeport’s official mining operations, they are not evicted or controlled in any way, they said. Instead, they claim they sell their findings to the police and military who work as security on the mine. (An anonymous Freeport source also confirmed this).

One of the panners, Martine Wandango, 25, bends over her pail of water as she filters out rocks and searches for ore. “You can only survive with money, and you can only find money from gold,” says Martine, who followed her husband to the delta 15 years ago by walking 60 miles over the mountains from their remote highland village.

The Aikwa river, which used to provide the Kamoro people with the staples of their existence.

The Aikwa river, which used to provide the Kamoro people with the staples of their existence.

“I work really hard as I want to give my children better lives, so they can go to school. But it isn’t enough, so she helps me here mining,” says Martine of her daughter, nine, who swings a gold pan in her hands. “On a good day, I can get three grammes, which I sell either to the police or [to buyers] in Timika.”

A tiny village when Freeport arrived here 40 years ago, Timika is now a boom town dotted with bars, brothels, gold-processing shops and various military personnel. Under Indonesian law, Freeport is a designated “strategic industry”, which mandates that external security for the mine, its access roads and its pipelines all be provided exclusively by Indonesia’s security forces. Freeport has never been implicated in any human rights abuses allegedly committed by the Indonesian military in Papua.

Freeport McMoRan, based in Phoenix, Arizona, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The company’s website defends its method of disposal of tailings at Grasberg, managed by PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), an affiliate company: “PTFI’s controlled riverine tailings management system, which has been approved by the Indonesian government, uses the unnavigable river system in the mountainous highlands near our mine to transport tailings to an engineered area in the lowlands where the tailings and other sediments are managed in a deposition area.”

A 2009 report by the company says it utilises levees to contain tailings in the deposition area, and that the tailings management programme costs Freeport McMoRan $15.5m (£12.7m) each year. According to the report, company monitoring of aquatic life in the rivers found that fish and shrimp were suitable for consumption, as regulated by Indonesian food standards, while water quality samples met Indonesian and US Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards for dissolved metals. In a 2011 BBC report on alleged pollution in the area surrounding Grasberg, the company says that the tailings management method was chosen because studies showed the environmental impact caused by its waste material was reversible.

Elsewhere on its website, the company says: “We are committed to respecting human rights. Our human rights policy requires us (and our contractors) to conduct business in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to align our human rights due diligence practices with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles).”

The company also emphasises its work with indigenous people in West Papua. A 2015 Freeport McRoRan report on working towards sustainable development said: “PTFI has engaged with indigenous Papuan tribes for decades, including through numerous formal agreements to promote workforce skills training, health, education and basic infrastructure development … In 2015, PTFI continued to evaluate the effectiveness of alternate options for Kamoro community members whose estuary transport routes are impacted by sedimentation associated with the controlled riverine tailings management system. Provision of smaller sized boats, in addition to 50 passenger vessels, for route flexibility as well as additional local economic development programmes were identified as additional mitigation measures during the year.”

Back in the area surrounding the Grasberg mine, many Papuans, struggling for work, find themselves pulled into the bar and sex industries that cater to the miners, particularly around the highland village of Banti. Here brothels and bars line up side by side, allegedly with help from the Indonesian military, who are said to supply sex workers and alcohol, according to a Freeport source who wished to remain anonymous.

Indigenous chiefs have watched as a newfound promiscuity has brought sexually transmitted infections that have ravaged their communities. “Traditional Papuan culture forbids free sex, but alcohol makes our communities vulnerable,” says the Amungme chief, Martin Mangal. “And brothels make it easy to contract HIV.”

HIV rates in West Papua are of “epidemic” proportions, according to the UN, 15 times higher than anywhere else in Indonesia. Driven almost entirely by unsafe sex, HIV is also far more prevalent among indigenous Papuans. Yet the existence of only one hospital – built by Freeport – means that most people, particularly those in remote highland villages, don’t get the help they need.

Late last year, the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, claimed he was willing to work towards a “better Papua”: “I want to listen to the people’s voices.”

However, human rights violations have actually increased since Widodo took power, according to Indonesia’s Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), which has logged 1,200 incidents of harassment, beatings, torture and killings of Papuans by Indonesian security forces since his election in 2014.

The Indonesian government did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The country’s military has consistently denied any wrongdoing in Papua.

Despite everything, there have been small glimmers of hope. This summer, Dutchhuman rights law firm Prakken D’Oliveira submitted a formal legal complaint against Indonesia to the UN Human Rights Council, accusing the government of “long-term, widespread and systematic human rights violations” and the “complete denial of the right to self-determination of the people of West-Papua”.

Later this year, West Papua is expected to be granted full membership of theMelanesian Spearhood Group, an important sub-regional coalition of countries including Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

The Brisbane commission, which warned of the risk of genocide, is calling on Indonesia to allow Papua, once and for all, the right to self-determination.

Yet some fear the opportunity for change in Papua is long gone.

“Is healing even possible?” asked Professor Agus Sumule, shaking his head. “It could be too late.”

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Freeport Indonesia CEO resigns after latest scandal

freeport grasberg mine

Latin American Herald Tribune

Maroef Sjamsoeddin submitted his resignation on Monday from his post as the President Director of Freeport Indonesia, a U.S.-based mining company with controversial gold and copper operations in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua, Tempo.co news site reported today.

In a letter sent to all Freeport Indonesia employees, Sjamsoeddin said that his tenure as president has ended and that he didn’t accept parent company Freeport McMoRan’s offer to extend his contract, which began in January last year.

Company spokesperson Riza Pratama confirmed the former president’s resignation, saying only that he resigned for “personal” reasons.

No stranger to criticism, Freeport Indonesia was involved in a recent scandal, in which former House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto allegedly tried to seek favours in return for extending the company’s work contract. Novanto resigned in December of last year.

Sjamsoeddin had testified in front of the House’s ethics council in hearings into the affair.

Freeport has also for several years faced allegations that its 50-year-old Grasberg mine in Papua, which holds the world’s largest gold ore reserves, has caused environmental damage and been linked to human rights abuses.

For months, the company has been criticized in street protests in Jakarta calling for it to be expelled from the country, as well as calls for the nationalization of the Indonesian unit of the U.S.-based mining firm.

Sjamsoeddin’s decision comes amid ongoing efforts of the provincial Papua government to secure ownership of its share of Freeport.

“What’s important is that Freeport Indonesia has its duties and obligations according to a work contract and obeys the laws and regulations that apply,” Bangun Manurung, head of the Energy and Mineral Resource Department in Papua said yesterday.

Papua Governor Lukas Enembe said recently that he wants Papua’s shareholder status in Freeport to be decided this year.

“The government and the indigenous people of Papua should have a dividend every year. That is what we are still discussing,” Enembe said on Dec. 16 last year.

As an interim measure, Robert C. Shroeder, executive vice president of Freeport Indonesia, has taken over as president director of the mining company.

Papua is Indonesia’s largest and easternmost province and borders the country of Papua New Guinea to its east. Until 2002 the province was called Irian Jaya.

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Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Human rights, Kiribati

West Papua: Mining in an occupation forgotten by the world

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Image: Ulet Ifansasti/Equal Times

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Image: Ulet Ifansasti/Equal Times

Pacific Media Centre

Now more than ever, say activists, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to a planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it. Nithin Coca reports.

It is a region rich in natural resources, the biggest source of tax revenue for the fourth most populous country in the world and, under de-facto military rule – it is also a place where activists are jailed, tortured, disappeared and assassinated.

So why doesn’t the world know more about West Papua?

Quite simply, because Indonesia’s restive, easternmost region is home to “one of the least covered armed conflicts in the world,” says Bob Dietz, Asia-Pacific director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), of the more than 50-year conflict.

There are no official statistics but estimates put the number of Papuans killed by Indonesian authorities at anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people.

Four decades of heavy restrictions on media and human rights groups’ access to West Papua has resulted in a near media blackout.

Linked to all this is a United States-based mining giant, Freeport-McMoRan.

Though its Phoenix, Arizona, headquarters is almost 15,000 kilometres away from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, it is the country’s largest taxpayer.

State security
In 2014, Freeport contributed a massive US$1.5 billion to the Indonesian state coffers.

Not surprisingly, a huge percentage of its profits and revenue depends on its Papua operations – and this has wider implications.

“Freeport needs a lot of government security support to operate,” says Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“In remote areas like Papua, this means less monitoring and more potential rights abuses taking place in their mining operations.”

In fact, national police and military are in charge of ‘maintaining order’ so that copper and gold can be safely extracted, and tax revenues can flow into Jakarta.

Freeport’s massive Grasberg mine – one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, with a minority stake held by global mining giant Rio Tinto – is essentially closed off to outside access.

“I like to joke that even if Jesus Christ wanted to visit [West] Papua, I don’t think he would get a permit,” says Harsono, noting that official permission requires signatures from 18 separate ministries and security agencies – an impossible task.

“Any bureaucracy that requires so many signatures to get a permit means there must be something terribly wrong in the area they want to enter.”

A history of oppression
West Papua (known by the Jakarta administration simply as Papua) forms the western half of the island of New Guinea (the eastern half being the independent nation of Papua New Guinea) and has long been a crown jewel for aspiring global powers.

It has, at various times, been controlled by Germany, The Netherlands and Australia, before it was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a military-run election in which about 1000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote for ascension.

West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s ‘New Order’ era under General Suharto.

“Suharto was a brutal dictator who savagely treated Papuans like animals and ordered many bombings and massacres in West Papua,” says Benny Wenda, leader of the Free West Papua.

These attacks were aimed chiefly at destroying the region’s independence aspirations and forcing its people to become Indonesians.

Wenda currently lives in exile in the United Kingdom, travelling around the world to raise awareness of the brutal atrocities committed by Indonesia against his people.

He witnessed this personally, when, as a child, the Indonesian military bombed his village and killed members of his family.

Crucial role
Natural resources have played a crucial role in the trajectory of Papuan history.

Just four years after its annexation, Freeport arrived, marking the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company, the Indonesian government and few others.

Meanwhile, the people of West Papua have endured great pain and suffering.

There was hope when Suharto’s dictatorship fell in 1998, bringing free elections to the archipelago, and even an independence referendum in East Timor, which was itself invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, and faced similar, bloody oppression.

It turned out to be false hope for West Papua.

“It looked as though an independence referendum was imminent but the new Indonesian government became incredibly scared of losing West Papua,” says Wenda.

Theys Eluay murdered
“So [Papuan independence leader] Theys Eluay was murdered by the Indonesian authorities, and ever since then, the situation in West Papua has only declined. There have been no real attempts to help with human rights or self-determination from any Indonesian government since.”

What has changed, however, has been an even greater investment in resource development, and the continued inflow of migrants from Java and Sumatra, Indonesia’s two most populous islands, into West Papua to manage resource development.

“Indonesia’s in-country migration is coming close to making Papuans a minority in their traditional homeland,” says Dietz.

Of a population of 3.5 million, only about half are from the hundreds of Melanesian Papuan ethnic groups, with the remainder of the population coming from Javanese, Sundanese, Malay and Madurese migrants, nearly all of whom have arrived since 1969.

Moreover, Indonesia plans to further exploit Papua by expanding palm oil plantations into traditionally-held forested land, and increasing downstream mining revenue by building smelters and other industrial facilities along the coast.

“I’m concerned with how the government uses [all this] tax money,” says Eric Samudra, a Jakarta-based governance researcher. “Is it being used for the good of the people, especially Papuans? The answer, obviously, is no.”

Disengaged public
Despite the news of police killing four protesters ilast December, many Indonesians remain silent on their government’s occupation of a minority, mostly non-Islamic people who have been waging a low-level insurgency for freedom and justice.

“The problem is most people choose not to do anything about it, while some others believe that nothing can be done,” says Samudra.

However, recent documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing are slowly opening Indonesians eyes to the country’s troubled past, which includes a bloody repression of its nascent Communist Party in the 1960s.

John M. Miller, the National Coordinator of the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, who publishes a monthly update on the situation in West Papua, believes that while public awareness is growing, it still has a long way to go before real change can occur.

“The silence is beginning to be broken, but a broad understanding isn’t there yet.”

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to bring greater development and autonomy to Indonesia’s outer islands, and the December killings brought Papua to the forefront of his administration’s efforts.

But questions remain about whether he will really be able to change the Papua situation.

“We believe President Jokowi would like to make a difference in Papua, and he has already made some moves to do that,” said Harsono, pointing to the president’s pledge to visit Papua frequently and listen to local concerns.

“But moving the security and civilian bureaucracy over [West] Papua is not easy.”

Empty words
That is one reason why many Papuan activists, including Wenda, are tired of empty words and want a referendum.

“We do not believe that any outcome other than full independence for West Papua can ever be a solution.”

On the ground, government policy seems to be going in the opposite direction.

A case in point: the planned new smelter, to be operated by Freeport and an Indonesian partner, will be built on traditional Kamoro lands in the Arafura coast, south of Freeport’s existing mining operations in the region.

The smelter was negotiated directly between the Indonesian government and Freeport, with no say or consultation from the local people.

Not surprisingly, locals groups oppose the smelter, which they fear will further pollute their lands and destroy their traditional way of living. If plans move forward, tensions will likely rise.

Dominikus Mitoro, acting chair of the Kamoro indigenous consultative organisation leadership council, has said publicly:

“Freeport or any other investor will encounter endless problems,” and that “no business will run smoothly until it leaves [our lands].”

According to activists, now more than ever, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to the planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it.

But that access seems unlikely for now.

“Indonesia’s leaders appear determined not to lose another part of its far-flung archipelago by having troublesome reporters, international or Indonesian, expose what is happening in Papua,” says Dietz.

Freeport McMoRan declined to comment on this story.

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