24 Oct 2017

Grasberg mine divestment could fuel Papua violence

6:22 pm on 24 October 2017

An academic says recent violence near Papua's Grasberg gold mine could be connected to plans to divest half of the American-owned operation to Indonesian entities.

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Photo: wikicommons

One police officer was killed and two others were injured while hunting for gunmen who shot at mine workers on Saturday.

The Grasberg mine has been the scene of violence for decades and the police have blamed the weekend's shootings on a group called the KKB.

Anthropology professor Eben Kirksey said previous agitators had been military-backed separatist militia trying to destabilise police protection of the mine.

He said with the mine's divestment in prospect, the KKB could be hoping to rebalance financial inequity in the Papua province.

"This province ranks the lowest on the UN Human Development Index out of all the Indonesian provinces, yet it has this Freeport gold mine as well as a BP natural gas deposit which places it at the top of revenue generating provinces.

"So I think that inequity is in part what fuels this conflict and I think until that inequity, in terms of distributing the proceeds from this mine, is resolved I think this is going to be an ongoing conflict."

In August, Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of US mining giant Feeport-McMoRan, agreed to divest a 51 per cent stake in the mine in exchange for the extension of its mining contract.

Professor Kirksey called for human rights monitors to probe the violence.

"The ownership of the mine is at stake. You have the Indonesian government and Freeport the company fighting over what sort of stakes the different groups will have. I think what we need is very serious independent human rights monitors on the ground.

"Given how high stakes this gold mine is, it's the largest gold mine in the world, you would think there would be openness and transparency to having international investigators there as well."

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