Posts made in April, 2015

Freeport’s Dance with the Devil

Posted by on Apr 5, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Freeport’s Dance with the Devil

Throughout the New Order, security forces had engaged in aggressive and often excessive measures against communities around the massive Freeport copper and gold mine near Timika in Irian Jaya (now Papua). Human rights activists and former employees estimated security forces had killed 160 persons in areas around the mine between 1975 and 1997. [1] Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) battalions were rotated every six months to serve as the Vital Asset Protection Unit, augmented by a token force of several dozen marines to guard the port facilities, where supplies were received and ore was loaded onto ships, Air Force Special Troops (Paskhas) to secure the Timika airfield, and a small Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) contingent. More than 500 soldiers were assigned to the Timika District Command, including a fifty-man aviation detachment, an engineer platoon, military police and a Army Special Forces (Kopassus) intelligence task force unit (Satuan Tugas Intelijens, SGI). The district police force was about 200-strong. Freeport paid salaries for the security forces assigned to protect the mine complex, plus food, housing, transportation, supplies, incidental and administrative expenses – along with subsidies to support the local military and police commands. As Indonesia’s largest taxpayer, Freeport made $33 billion in direct and indirect payments to Jakarta between 1994 and 2002, nearly 2 percent of the gross domestic product. [2] The company employed over 18,000, directly or as contract workers. Timika, the settlement nearest the mine, had grown from a village in the 1960s to bustling company town with 100,000 residents in the early-twenty-first-century; most made their livelihoods from the mine. With its bars, brothels and the conspicuous armed security presence, Timika had the atmosphere of a frontier town. The native population suffered high rates of alcoholism and HIV/AIDS. Local church ladies ransacked and burned several Chinese-owned bars and places of prostitution in early-1999; most reopened a few months later with military protection. The payoffs and sweetheart deals for Soeharto family members and cronies had been essential to obtain the permits to build and operate the leviathan mining project – and set the precedent to continue such practices during the post-Soeharto period. Freeport found itself even more dependent on military protection during the reformasi era; company officials faced pressure from the local community, human rights groups, environmental activists, the media and the security forces, which had persistently pressed for additional payments since the mid-1990s. In the view of military leaders, they were entitled to share profits from the national project, just as they had earned the right to play a central role in governing the country. Payments to the military were modest compared to Freeport’s dealings with the Soeharto family and cronies. Soldiers at the mining facilities were eager for their share in the plunder. They were responsible for thefts, burglaries and other criminal activities, like illegal logging and trafficking in protected wildlife. In November 1994, unidentified assailants had shot and killed a company truck driver on the mine access road. Military leaders blamed the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and used the incident to justify a major build-up and a six-month security operation, a period in which thirty-seven locals were killed....

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