Police in the troubled Indonesian province of Papua say they have named six people as suspects out of 17 detained over the weekend after a violent protest by former mine workers at Freeport McMoran’s Grasberg copper mine.
Violence erupted at the world’s second-biggest copper mine, which employs more than 32,000 staff and contractors, when demonstrators blocked an access point as part of a dispute over the sacking of 3,000 workers by PT Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of the Arizona-based company.
Freeport has denied that there was a “formal strike”, and announced that around 3,000 full-time and 1,000 contract employees who were absent had “voluntarily resigned”, but could reapply for their jobs as contractors.
At least seven people were hurt and numerous vehicles and buildings were burned, blocking access to the giant site, which is visible on satellite imagery.
IndustriALL Global Union, a federation of trade unions, has criticised Freeport’s handling of the dismissals, saying that it treated the “fired” workers “inhumanely and with contempt”, and urged the mining giant to reinstate staff and contractors.
The six people named by the authorities carried weapons and committed other offences, police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal told the media.
In Indonesia, by naming someone as a suspect means the police believe they have sufficient evidence to consider filing charges with most such cases going to court.
Kamal said: “They were carrying machetes, knives and bows and arrows. This was not an ordinary demonstration.”
A search was also being made for a “armed group of criminals” after shooting in the area left a police officer injured, Kamal said. Sprawling, jungle-covered Papua makes up around a quarter of Indonesia’s landmass but less than 6 per cent of the total population, making it ideal territory for insurgents.
Head of Papua police, Inspector General Boy Rafli Amar, announced that Freeport vehicles could again operate normally in the area.
Grasberg is a major source of revenue for the Indonesian economy but its social and environmental impact is a source of friction between police and the Papuan residents.
Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine zone left at least 20 people dead and wounded 59. In 2015, Freeport reportedly paid US$21 million for government security.
Grasberg. Picture credit: YouTube