Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Protest over US mine in Papua ends

TENSION EASES Despite charges of police abuse and the arrest of 13 people in connection with the deadly protest, police said things are back to normal


Calm returned to Papua Province yesterday after three days of tension following a deadly protest against a massive US-owned gold mine in the eastern Indonesian province.

Police have arrested 13 of more than 70 people questioned in connection with the violence -- in which four security officers were bludgeoned to death -- on charges ranging from destruction of property to assault and murder, chief detective Colonel Paulus Waterpauw said.

The killings highlighted the hatred many residents of Indonesia's easternmost province feel toward the country's soldiers and police. Human rights activists accuse authorities of planning a purge of pro-independence activists in the wake of the latest bloodshed.

Protesters say the mine, which is owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, has earned the New Orleans-based company billions of dollars, but the local firm has received little benefit. Freeport, which has acknowledged paying millions of dollars to government troops for security, also is identified with Indonesian oppression by many Papuans.

The province was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 by former dictator Suharto after his security forces orchestrated a referendum in which only 1,025 hand-picked supporters of Indonesian rule took part. The vote is now widely regarded as a sham, and Papuans are demanding a true ballot on self-determination, akin to the one that ended Jakarta's rule in East Timor in 1999.

On Thursday, mine protesters killed three policemen and an air force officer in a rampage when gun-toting security forces fired tear gas and charged protesters with batons in Jayapura, the provincial capital. Papuans said the police shot first, injuring several people, before protesters attacked the security forces.

But by yesterday, no police were left guarding or patrolling the streets around the campus of Cendrawasih University, the location of Thursday's clash.

"People are now going to churches without fear, while shops, stalls and street vendors have returned to their normal activities," Waterpauw said.

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