No Grasberg hostages: rebel

A militant separatist group in Indonesian Papua has disputed police claims that it is holding villagers hostage during an armed standoff near the giant US-owned Grasberg copper mine. 

In the past month one paramilitary police officer was killed and six wounded in attacks reportedly by the National Liberation Army of West Papua (TNP).

The authorities accuse the group of attacking civilians.

The military said it was prepared to take tough measures against rebels who threatened to “destroy” Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoran’s mine in their struggle for independence.

Hendrik Wanmang, an alleged TNP commander, said Banti and Kimbeli villagers were restricted by insurgents from reaching the conflict area for their safety.

Wanmang said none of the more than 2,000 TNP militants were stationed in the villages.

“We cannot mingle with the community,” Wanmang told Reuters by telephone. “That would endanger them.”

Villagers were free to farm and move elsewhere, he said.

A state of emergency has been declared and at least 300 additional security personnel have been deployed.

On Thursday, the security forces alleged that a group of about 100, including 25 armed militants, seized two villages and held 1,300 residents hostage.

Jakarta prevents the media and other international observers from visiting the provinces of Papua and West Papua so reports cannot be independently verified. Papuans are ethnically distinct from other Indonesians and many demand independence, regarding Indonesia as a colonial power.

Many of the villagers are reportedly migrant workers from the distinctively shaped island of Sulawesi.

Grasberg has been targeted with low-level conflict by insurgents and, between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine reportedly killed 20 people and wounded 59.

The rebel leader dismissed allegations that the TNP had targeted civilians.

“It’s not true, it’s only the provocation of Indonesian military and police with the aim of damaging our image,” Wanmang said.

He denied that his group had carried out rape and torture of civilians.

“People there are safe, both natives and non-natives are free to do activities as usual.

“We are at war against the national police, Indonesian military and Freeport,” he said.  “[We] will continue to fight until the root of this problem, Freeport, is removed.”

Military action would be a last resort if negotiations with the group failed to resolve the dispute, Papua armed forces chief George Enaldus Supit announced.

Papua’s forests are hard to police. Picture credit: Wikimedia