Fresh Violence Erupts Near Papua Mine

TIMIKA ~ Police battled unidentified gunmen on Wednesday near a US-owned gold mine in Papua province, where a recent spate of deadly ambushes has claimed three lives.

Five police officers were wounded in the firefight, which broke out as they patrolled near the sites of two weekend ambushes that killed an Australian mine technician and two Indonesians, a police source said.

“The latest information is that five policemen were wounded in this afternoon’s incident,” the source told the AFP newswire, raising the number of wounded from two earlier.

All of the officers received bullet wounds, including one who was shot in the stomach, he said.

The road, which has been closed since the attacks, links the coastal town of Timika to the massive Grasberg mine about 65 kilometres to the north.

The mine is owned by Freeport Indonesia, the local subsidiary of US mining giant Freeport McMoRan.

A spokesman for Freeport Indonesia said he had heard reports of the firefight but had no further details.

The battle broke out hours after Freeport ordered hundreds of its workers not to come to the mine from Timika amid the worst attacks on its workers in Indonesia since 2002.

“This morning we have asked hundreds of our employees to stay home,” Freeport Indonesia spokesman Mindo Pangaribuan said.

He said the company – the biggest single taxpayer to the government – was not sure when the road would be safe to travel.

“We’ll have to take further input from the police on this,” Pangaribuan said, adding that operations at the mine were continuing.

Australian technician Drew Grant, 29, was killed on Saturday when his car was fired on between Timika and Tembagapura, while a Freeport guard was killed in an ambush on the same road on Sunday.

A third victim, a policeman, was found dead in a ravine on Monday after fleeing the ambush the day before.

Two American teachers from the Freeport mining town of Tembagapura and an Indonesian colleague were killed in an ambush on the same road in 2002.

Freeport says it pays hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the military and police for protection, but the military has recently denied receiving any such payments.

Military chief General Djoko Santoso has blamed Papuan separatist guerrillas for the attacks.

Police in Papua however have said there is no evidence to suggest the poorly-armed rebels were behind the ambushes.

The attackers staked out their targets and used military-issue ammunition, fuelling speculation that members of the security forces are behind the violence and using it as a way of extorting more protection money out of Freeport.

Defence Minister Jowono Sudarsono said he did not believe active soldiers or police were involved but did not rule out the possibility that “rogue elements” were responsible.

“There may be rogue elements, there may be deserters from each of the services including the police and the military,” he told reporters in Jakarta.

“But at the moment there is no verifiable proof that active military or active police are involved in the shooting.”

He said his guess was that the attacks were related to feuds between rival groups over the control of illegal mining activities on the fringes of Freeport’s gold and copper mine.

“There may be people who are involved in illegal activity who find the lucrativeness of the gold panning… too good to be ignored,” Sudarsono said.

A commander for the Free Papua Movement guerrillas has reportedly denied involvement, although the separatists’ armed wing is a disjointed group that acts locally with little central control.

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