Albion Monitor /News

Christmas Greetings From Gold Mine of Death

by Pratap Chatterjee

Last Christmas Day, four Native people were killed

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Christmas greetings from Freeport McMoRan, the operators of the world's largest gold mine, may evoke different memories for Wall street analysts and the indigenous people of Irian Jaya, the western half of the island of New Guinea.

On Wall Street, a little present from New Orleans-based Freeport will bring back memories of an all-expenses-paid stay last month at the Sheraton Hotel near the mine site.

For the Amungme indigenous people, who live near the mine, Christmas Day will bring back memories of police interrogations and torture exactly one year before. Four Amungme -- Elias Jikwa, Yoel Kogoya, Wendi Tabuni, and Pergamus Waker -- were killed that day, allegedly by Indonesian army units.

"Our earth is a gift to us and we all have a responsibility for its well being"

Last week, a small package arrived at the offices of many Wall street analysts from James Robert "Jim Bob" Moffett, Freeport's chief executive.

"At this joyous and contemplative holiday season, we all share not only in the religious meaning of these days but also in the beauteous and bountiful world that our creator has given to us," says the cover note from Moffett.

"Our earth is a gift to us and we all have a responsibility for its well being... Happy holidays from all of us at the Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Families," adds the note.

Enclosed with the note was a book of color photographs of Indonesia called "Tanah Air: Indonesian Biodiversity." The foreword to the book is written by Suharto, Indonesia's president.

"I think this is rather ironic given that the company makes its money from destroying the biodiversity of the island, don't you? Especially given the rather bloody events that happened last Christmas," said a Wall street analyst who asked not to be named.

The analyst travelled aboard Freeport's company jets with a group of 20 other representatives of major investment companies -- 15 from the United States, three from Britain, two from Canada and one from France -- to the mine site in Indonesia and to Spain to visit the processing plant from Nov. 5 to 10.

Analysts are routinely taken to visit mine sites by companies, but this trip held added significance. In an unprecedented move the week before, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) canceled its insurance for the mine because of the environmental damage caused by mine operations.

Protesting abuses -- including torture and execution -- by the army, which has guarded the mine for more than 20 years

The events last Christmas were documented from eyewitness accounts by H.F.M. Munninghof, the Catholic bishop of Jayapura in Irian Jaya. The report was translated and published by the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) in August. Its account was recently confirmed by the government-appointed National Commission on Human Rights.

According to the bishop's report, people from three churches in the villages of Arwanop, Banti and Waa gathered in Waa village to pray on Christmas Day shortly after participating in a peaceful demonstration protesting the mine nearby.

The local people were demonstrating against the mine because its operations have caused flooding, re-routing of the rivers, and the destruction of the sago forests and indigenous hunting grounds. They were also protesting abuses -- including torture and execution -- by the army, which has guarded the mine for more than 20 years.

After the ceremony, a group of 15 people left for the town of Tembagapura (the Freeport company town) but were arrested on the way by soldiers from 733 battalion Patimpura. The troops reportedly accused them of being rebels who have resisted Indonesia's annexation of Irian Jaya since Jakarta invaded it in 1967.

One of the 15 told the bishop that group members were beaten and locked into a Freeport "container."

"The 15 of us were beaten with sticks and rifle butts and were kicked with boots by the troops...until about noon. They stripped us stark naked and took our belongings such as beads and money," said the victim.

The group was released from the container and escorted by a group of soldiers onto Freeport bus number 44, which was on its way to Timika.

When one of the group, Wendi Tabuni, a 23-year-old man from Timika, tried to escape, "the bus stopped at once and a number of soldiers jumped down and without warning shot Wendi in the head. The soldiers took his body and threw it in a ravine near Mile 66," he added.

The other 14 were taken to the Freeport workshop in Koperakopa at about two o'clock in the afternoon. Three -- Yoel Kogoya, Elias Jikwa, and Peregamus Waker -- "were tortured by being beaten with sticks on the neck from behind, left, right and from the front, till their necks were broken and they died," says the witness.

Freeport has become the de facto government

The following day, Yunus Omabak, a 33-year-old Amungme tribal chief from Waa, says he was summoned to a military post in Tembagapura together with three other elders from his tribe to report on the religious service.

Omabak says he was put aboard Freeport bus number 404 and taken to a Freeport "security cell." There the soldiers accused them of raising a rebel flag at the Christmas protest and supplying the rebels with rice and cigarettes.

"(T)hey hit me over the head with a big stone till blood streamed over my body. They put an iron bar in the hollow of my knees and forced me to squat and lean against a chest for hours. I was screaming in pain," he said.

The four elders say they were tortured for two weeks before being released on Jan. 10.

Freeport officials say that none of their officials was involved in the incident. They refused to comment on the allegations of torture by the Indonesian military.

"Freeport operates under its host government laws and respects the jurisdiction of the military, which is responsible for the safety and security of its people," a Freeport official said in a statement faxed to IPS.

Tim Wirth, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for global affairs, however, told IPS last week that Freeport has become the de facto government of Irian Jaya, a situation that Washington would like to see changed.

"The Indonesian government has not done much to establish a government there, and Freeport has therefore become in many ways company and government," said Wirth.

"Freeport, an American company, cannot be in a position to be asked to be both commercial enterprise and government. That's the sort of colonial position of 100 years ago," he added.

"I have talked to our new ambassador -- Stapleton Roy -- (about Freeport) and one of the things he has to do is to work with the Indonesian government so they assume their responsibilities on that island," he said.

Albion Monitor January 12, 1996 (

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