Heru Andriyanto, Nurfika Osman& Christian Motte
US mining giant Freeport McMoRan’s operation in Papua was rocked by a weekend of violence that saw two of its employees, including an Australian national, shot dead and seven wounded in three separate ambushes by unknown gunmen, officials said.
The attacks came on Saturday and Sunday within a three-kilometer stretch on the road to the Grasberg mining complex in Timika, one of the world’s biggest gold and copper production sites. It was the most deaths since a 2002 ambush on a Freeport vehicle convoy on the same road that killed two US nationals and an Indonesian working there.
Mindo Pangaribuan, spokesman for PT Freeport Indonesia, the local subsidiary, said an Indonesian security guard was killed and five other staff wounded during an attack on their vehicle convoy on Sunday morning. “At 10:45 a.m. [8:45 a.m. Jakarta time], two security vehicles came under gunfire and one employee was killed, five others injured,” the spokesman said in an e-mail.
He did not give their names but Antara news agency identified the guard as Markus Rante Alo.
Mindo said officers from the National Police’s Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit were deployed to the scene.
Officials said Sunday’s attack was close to where a vehicle carrying Australian Drew Nicholas Grant, 29, a project manager at Freeport, and three other employees was ambushed by gunmen at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday. Police said Grant, who had just returned from Australia after visiting his 9-week-old daughter, died after being shot five times in the neck, chest and stomach from 25 meters away.
Three other occupants in the car, including another Australian identified as Lukan Jon Biggs, who was driving, and Indonesian workers Lia Madandan and Maju Panjaitan, were uninjured.
Just a few hours after Sunday’s first attack, two policemen were injured in an ambush on a convoy of Detachment 88 and Mobile Brigade police personnel traveling the road to the mine complex from Tembagapura, said Brig. Gen. Sulistyo Ishak, a National Police spokesman. “They were shot in the thighs and are being treated at the hospital,” he said, adding that police were investigating whether the same assailants carried out all three attacks.
The National Police have not named any suspects, but Papua Police Chief Bagus Ekodanto said he believed the Free Papua Movement (OPM) was behind the second ambush on Sunday.
The OPM, a small band of lightly armed rebels who have fought for independence since the 1960s, denied carrying out Saturday’s attack that killed Grant. “The OPM doesn’t target civilians. Besides, we don’t have guns and ammunition,” group spokesman Kelly Kwalik told the Jakarta Globe.
Security forces frequently blame rebels for sporadic attacks in the restive province, including the one in 2002 that strained relations between the Indonesian and US governments after an initial police investigation into the ambush implicated Indonesian Army soldiers deployed to protect the Freeport mining site.
In 2006, reputed OPM member Antonius Wamang was sentenced to life in prison for the 2002 attack, while six others received jail terms ranging from 18 months to seven years. Activists claim the military orchestrated the attack using the men to contrive higher security payments from Freeport, which now pays the police to help protect its mining site.
An Indonesian-based researcher on Papua, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this weekend’s attacks would likely rekindle the issue. “As usual, you get two stories — the official version that it was the OPM, and the Papuan civil society saying, ‘No, it’s the invisible hand, it’s the Indonesian military,’ ” he said.
“There is a conflict between the Army units that used to control the area, and police who control it now and are getting security payments [from Freeport]. Also, there is OPM activity in the area.”
Two officers from the Australian Federal Police arrived in Papua on Sunday to help Indonesian police in the investigation into Saturday’s ambush, according to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The embassy released comments by Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in Perth on Sunday that Indonesia’s National Police requested help.