Military to stay at Freeport

Military to stay at Freeport

The Indonesian Military (TNI) says it will continue guarding PT Freeport Indonesia in the restive province of Papua, despite accusations of human rights abuses against local people.

Protecting the American gold and copper mine was listed as part of the military’s duties in the 2004 presidential decree on national vital objects, said Lt. Col. Inf. Siburian, deputy intelligence assistant at the Trikora military command overseeing Papua.

“We have to protect this object because it is not only a state asset but it also involves foreign interests,” he told a discussion here Friday, attended by police officers as well as Freeport and Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry officials.

Siburian warned that should security be harmed at Freeport, the U.S. government would almost certainly send security forces to intervene.

Freeport is a subsidiary of the New Orleans-based mining giant Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc., which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The Indonesian government owns less than 10 percent of the company.

“If we fail to protect it, don’t blame us if foreign forces come into the company’s area,” Siburian said, citing the 2002 shooting near the mine that killed two American teachers. FBI agents were then sent in to help find the killers.

In January this year the FBI and Papua Police arrested 12 rebels over the incident, including Anthonius Wamang who had been indicted for the murder in an in absentia trial by a U.S. grand jury in 2004.

Siburian said TNI has prepared 12 contingency plans to counter possible security threats to Freeport, including terrorism and separatism.

“We understand that terrorists often target American interests. Freeport is prone to terrorist attacks,” said Siburian, who is a former military district commander in Mimika, home to the Grasberg mine.

Papua Police deputy chief Brig. Gen. Max Donald Aer said his office and TNI would stay inside the Freeport compound until after the company was able to boost the capacity of its internal security guards.

“Gradually we’ll leave the internal security role to the company and will only secure areas outside its concessions,” he said.

Max said the police would launch Amole (peace) Operation I to secure the company’s assets and promote the company’s internal security, but declined to discuss the details of the six-month operation.

Currently some 700 military soldiers are protecting Freeport and an additional 350 troops will be deployed there to back up the Amole operation, which will involve 1,098 security personnel, including 630 National Police and 118 from the Papua police office.

Mudakir, an advisor to the energy and mineral resources minister, said Freeport was one of 270 vital national objects listed by his office.

“However, the company is the only vital national object that has not yet been able to manage its internal security independently,” he said.

Freeport security manager Mangasa R. Saragih, a retired one-star Army general, denied reports the company gave cash payments to soldiers and police deployed to the mine.

The troops only received the necessary equipment and vehicles to carry out their patrol duties, he said.

Freeport recently drew strong criticism after the New York Times revealed that from 1998 to 2004 the company paid military and police nearly $20 million in security money, which activists considered bribes.

Critics say Freeport badly needs the police and TNI to prevent possible attacks from local Papuans who reject its presence, while the police and TNI personnel need the company to provide extra income, both for their cash-strapped organizations and themselves individually.

Human rights watchdog Elsham Papua director Aloysius Renwarin and local tribal leaders have opposed the military presence at Freeport and urged for its withdrawal.

“The military presence will only add to its long human rights violation record. What we need now is to find a way to empower local residents living near Freeport areas to willingly safeguard the company’s facilities,” Aloysius said.

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