Indonesian police suspect separatists in mine bombings

News from International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Monday, September 15, 2008

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Separatist rebels are being investigated in a string of bombings targeting a U.S. mining giant in Indonesia’s restive eastern Papua province, police said Monday. No one was wounded in the blasts, which followed written demands that the company’s gold mine be shut.

Two attacks were carried out late last week on a road leading to the massive mine operated by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. and a third occurred late Sunday in an empty field near an international airport built by the New Orleans-based company.

“It is clear that an unidentified group wants to sabotage and terrorize vital (Freeport) installations in Papua,” deputy police chief Prasetyo, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name, told reporters in the port town of Timika. “But they failed.”

Papua, a desperately poor and heavily militarized province on Indonesia’s easternmost tip, is home to separatist rebels who have long denounced PT Freeport Indonesia’s mine as a symbol of Jakarta’s rule over the region.

They were blamed for a 2002 ambush that left two Americans teachers at the mine dead. Indonesian security forces were initially accused of carrying out that roadside attack to extort higher protection payments from the company.

Prasetyo said 20 witnesses have been questioned over the recent spate of bombings — all of which used 33-pound (15-kilogram) World War II-era mortar shells, indicating they were carried out by a single group. So far, no arrests have been made.

A little-known separatist group called the West Papua National Army is being investigated, Prasetyo said, because they circulated pamphlets early last week demanding the closure of the mine, which began open-pit mining at the site in 1990 and is expected to continue until 2015.

The mine has seen violent worker protests in the past, and environmental groups accuse Freeport of pollution and stripping the province of its vast natural resources.

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