By Morten Rønning
The indigenous people of West Papua have fought American-owned Freeport Indonesia since the mine opened in 1967. Many people have been forced to move due to the activities. The gold and copper mine is located in the highland previously belonging to the Amungme and Komoro peoples. 2.5 million hectares of their land are threatened. The compensation they have received is an insult according to the international organization for indigenous people Survival International.
"We sympathize with the indigenous people, but it is not our policy to get involved in this type of problems," says vice president of communications Brad Larson of Dyno Industrier, Oslo.
"Freeport is digging out the brain of our mother. That is why we fight it."
The conflict between indigenous people and the mining company Freeport Indonesia has among other things led to killings. Indonesia's own commission for human rights has admitted that 16 people were killed in a village nearby and four people have disappeared in Timika. Bishop Muninghoff confirms that 11 people, including 4 children and a Protestant priest, died when the army opened fire on a crowd gathered for prayer on May 31, 1995. The local population says the army and the mining company's security personnel are responsible. According to Dyno the authorities are responsible:
"We cannot judge as to who is right in a situation like this; we adhere to Norwegian legislation and the law of the country in which we operate," says Larson, who will not reveal how much Dyno's contract with the Freeport mine is worth. Indonesian authorities have imprisoned four soldiers, who will be tried in connection with the killings.
The Amungme, a group of 13,000 people, live in the highland and the valleys as hunters and gatherers, and they also practice agriculture based on crop rotation. There are 85 separate clans, all of which have been subjected to forced integration in the mainstream society by Indonesian authorities.
As a result of the conflict, Yuiliana Magal, a young Amungme woman, was "detained" in one of the mining company's containers in October 1994, without any charges. She spent one month in the small container, and was tortured, sexually abused, and threatened with execution unless she would give them certain information. "I don't speak Indonesian, and the military forces don't speak the local language," she tells Survival International. The Freeport mine destroys the heart of the Amungme people's land; the snowcapped mountains are holy, and the mine is located in an area that is the residence of Jo-Mun-Nerek, the ancestors' guiding spirit. According to Survival International, neither the mining company nor the authorities respect the religious sites.
Every day the mine discharges 110,000 tons of highly toxic sludge into the Aykwa River, and three rivers are seriously polluted. The company admitted such pollution for the first time in 1992, and has distributed barrels to the local population for collection of rainwater because the water in the river is undrinkable. According to the journal Multinational Monitor, managing director Bruce March of Freeport Indonesia has asked local people to stop eating sago, their staple food, because of pollution from the mining activities.
"We do not control the operation of the mine," says vice president communications Larson.
The mining company claims to bring the benefits of modern living to the population, but less than150 of the 7,500 employees come from West Papua. The company's new project, the Mount Grasberg mine, threatens the livelihood of another 2,000 indigenous people. Freeport Indonesia increased its capital stock in 1992, and the large British mining company Rio Tinto Zinc invested USD 1.8 billion. From the new mine at Mount Grasberg, containing the world's largest gold reserves, 57,000 metric tons of ore will be extracted daily. Due to its size, this mine will have a more serious social and environmental impact than the existing Mount Ertzberg mine. The mining company is generating 47% of West Papua's total earnings, but the original inhabitants on the island receive little or none of this.
The mining company's partners have second thoughts. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has canceled Freeport Indonesia's USD 100 million insurance policy on grounds of unreasonable health and environmental hazards (OPIC is an independent, financilly self-supporting corporation, fully owned by the U.S. government). Survival International sees this as a sign of international opposition making an impact.
Dyno in West Papua
In 1993 Dyno Wesfarmers Ltd in Sydney, of which Dyno Industrier owns 50%, was awarded a contract to supply explosives for the Freeport mine. It is operated by Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of Freeport McMoRan Coppers and Gold Inc. in the US. Dyno Wesfarmers supplies about 1,400 metric tons of explosives annually; explosives and detonators are manufactured in Australia. Major stockholders in Dyno Industrier as of Dec. 12, 1994: Hydro Invest A/S (38.8%), Orkla A/S (18.4%), and the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme Fund (5,2%).
Norwatch Newsletter 2/96