At least two people are confirmed dead after Indonesian military and police opened fire and arrested 800 West Papuan leaders and congress delegates yesterday, on the last day of The Third Papuan People’s Congress. Over 20,000 people attended the congress, which started on October 16 on an oval in near Jayapura, in West Papua. Military trucks, police and soldiers armed with machine guns had surrounded the oval for three days.
A week earlier, on October 10, Indonesian guards opened fire on striking workers at the Freeport McMoran’s Grasberg gold and copper mine near Timika, West Papua. Two workers were killed and six others injured in that clash.
Roughly 9000 disgruntled workers have been on strike since September 15, demanding higher wages and better work conditions.
The Freeport miners’ trade union (SPSI) spokesperson Juli Parorrongan told 3rd Degree that the workers were on their way to Gorong Gorong bus terminal when the shooting started. They were heading to the mine facilities to stop contract workers as they were still on strike.
The police blocked the terminal, and warning shots were sent in the air. Panic spread, and shots were aimed at the crowd.
“The workers then became angry and that’s why the conflict and chaos began,” Mr Parorrongan said.
Local mineworker Peter W. Ayamiseba, 30, died later in hospital after being shot in the chest. Leo Wandago died five days later from his wounds.
The SPSI said the Grasberg mine workers are among the worst paid in the world, with wages between $A2.10 and $A3.50 an hour. They have rejected the 25 per cent increase the PT Freeport Indonesia management have offered.
Mr Parorrongan said they have lowered their demands from $30 per hour.
“We are now asking for $US17.50 but we can go down to US$9 per hour. It depends on the decision from management.
“We started the strike last month, and we have continued another month. We will strike until the problem is solved,” he said.
According the Fortune 500 list in 2010, the Freeport-McMoran group made a profit of around $US4.3 billion. Grasberg is the biggest gold mine and the third biggest copper mine in the world. Australian company Rio Tinto and the Indonesian government are both significant shareholders in the mine.
The Indonesian government announced a loss of $8 million for every day production is halted.
A report by Australian journalist Naj Taylor published on Al Jazeera last week explained Rio Tinto’s involvement in the Grasberg mine. Taylor reported on the blacklisting of Rio Tinto and Freeport-McMoran by the Norwegian Pension Fund in 2008 for “grossly unethical conduct” over treatment of workers at the Grasberg mine.
Taylor’s report also documents close ties between the Grasberg mine operators and the Indonesian military, whose history of violence is extensive.
A statement from the Coalition for Freeport Indonesia Workers’ Struggle said “there have been numerous incidents of pressure and intimidation against the workers, either directly by the Freeport management or through the arrogant actions of the police and the Mobile Brigade.”
Greens Senator and West Papua Spokesman Richard Di Natale said he was saddened to hear of the violence towards the miners.
“There needs to be a thorough investigation into the shooting and acts of violence that occurred against ordinary workers,” he said.
The Third Papuan People’s Congress started in Jayapura on October 16 and Mr Di Natale addressed the importance of the congress for the future of West Papua.
“I am deeply concerned that the conflict in West Papua is escalating. The only long term solution is to ensure that the West Papuan people are free to determine their own future.”
Mr Parorrongan told 3rd Degree he hoped the Indonesian government would protect them while they were on strike, but they have been slow to respond.
“We also hope the international human rights will have concerns about the tragedy. They have broken the law and we hope the international community will give us support so this will finish good,” he said.
For breaking news on the atrocities being committed in the wake of the Congress visitWestpapuamedia.info.