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Vol. 75/No. 42      November 21, 2011

Indonesia gov’t attempts
to quell struggles in W. Papua
(feature article)
SYDNEY, Australia—On October 19 more than 3,000 Indonesian troops and police broke up the final day of the Papuan People’s Congress in Indonesia’s easternmost province. They fired warning shots and beat and arrested hundreds of delegates. The following day six congress participants were found dead behind a nearby military post.

Some 5,000 participants from more than 200 tribes across Papua and West Papua attended the congress near the Papuan provincial capital Jayapura. The assault came after they raised the banned Morning Star flag and issued a declaration in support of independence. Indonesian authorities have charged five Papuan leaders with treason.

The Papuan struggle for independence has a long history. The territory was forcibly incorporated into Indonesia by the Suharto dictatorship in 1969. The area is currently administered as two provinces—Papua and West Papua. Following the end of the Suharto regime, greater autonomy was formally granted to Papua in 2001 and to West Papua in 2008. Most Papuans consider the two provinces to be one country called West Papua.

Last year large conferences and rallies were held rejecting the so-called autonomous status quo and calling for self-determination. They protested the dispossession and marginalization of the Papuan people on their own land and violence by Indonesian cops and military.

The congress took place as thousands of workers at the Freeport gold and copper mine in the central highlands of Indonesian Papua continued their strike for higher pay. Police killed two strikers in Timika October 7 when they fired on a strike rally confronting scabs being bused to the mine by the company.

The massive Freeport open pit mine has long been a focus of discontent because little of the vast wealth it generates stays in Papua, while operations are carried out in a way that leaves large-scale environmental damage in its wake.

The strike by almost all of the 9,000 “nonstaff” workers employed at the mine began September 15. There are also 3,000 staff workers and another 10,000 employed by contractors there.

The Jakarta Globe reported October 18, a week after the police shootings in Timika, that thousands of strikers were blockading the roads to the mine. Along with damage to the pipeline that carries ore concentrate to the mine’s port, the strike has affected production enough for Freeport to suspend its contracts.

Members of seven tribes carrying traditional spears and bows have joined the workers in blocking the roads in support of the strike and with their own demands over land rights and distribution of the mine’s profits.

The mining giant is now offering a 30 percent pay hike. Strikers are demanding substantially more though: minimum pay, for instance, to rise from $1.50 to $7.50 per hour.

Since 1995 Freeport has paid more than $74 million to some 3,000 Indonesian police troops deployed at the mine to protect the company’s interests, bosses admit.

While most of the strikers are native Papuans, workers also come from other parts of Indonesia. This is the first time the entire union workforce at the mine has gone on strike, union spokesperson Juli Parorongan told ABC Radio the day cops opened fire on the strikers.  
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