Thursday, April 19, 2007

Protest in Indonesia's Papua

Papua's remarkable highland peaks. Below the mist is the Grasberg mine carved out of the mountains. This is the traditional lands of the Amungme people.
According to legend these mountains are the sacred home of their ancestral grandmother who guards the balance of nature. Freeport has been accused of disturbing this natural balance.

In an unprecedented action, thousands of workers from a giant US-run mine in Indonesia's remote Papua province have staged a protest demanding better wages and welfare.

The workers come from the Grasberg gold and copper mine high up in the mountainous interior (see photo above). They demonstrated outside the Indonesian headquarters of Freeport-McMoRan, which is in the lowlands about 70 kilometres downstream from the minesite. News reports say the protest was peaceful , but the thousands of demonstrators were flanked by Indonesian police at all times.

The workers have been gathering in Timika from surrounding villages and towns demanding to speak with a Freeport executive in the US via teleconference.
Critics accuse Freeport of not giving enough to the people of
Papua in return for the mine. They allege the mine causes pollution and that the military's protection of the site leads to human rights abuses.
The firm has disputed the claims.
A Freeport spokesman told the
AFP News Agency that in the past decade the company had almost quadrupled its Papuan employment, from some 800 in 1996 to the current 3,000 workers.

Freeport runs its Grasberg mine under a 30-year contract with the Indonesian government that began in 1992. The company owns 91 percent of PT Freeport Indonesia, with the rest in government hands.

Members of the Amungme people who live downstream from the Freeport mine project. In 2000 I reported on a mine spill which wiped out part of the Amungme village of Banti. You can read about this story and the struggles of Papua's people in my book Running Amok

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