Unidentified gunmen killed three people near the Grasberg mine in Indonesia’s restive Papua province on Friday morning, raising the number of fatalities during a month-long workers’ strike to seven.
The sprawling Grasberg mine contains the world’s largest recoverable copper reserves and largest single gold reserve. It is run by PT Freeport Indonesia, an arm of Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.
The deteriorating security situation at Grasberg, where thousands of striking workers have blockaded supply routes and sabotaged mining installations, forced Freeport to halt production earlier this week.
Antara, the state news agency, identified one of the victims in Friday’s shooting as Aloysius Margana, who has worked for Freeport on a contract basis for 20 years. He was an uncle of a prominent Indonesian legislator, Roy Suryo.
Two of the victims were still unidentified. Indonesian police did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Two others were shot dead last week near the same site.
Since July, 2009, 11 people have been shot dead and 41 wounded at Grasberg. The mine has been plagued by communal violence, with accusations that rival security forces are competing for protection rackets and also control of nearby run-off streams that can carry gold tailings.
Earlier this month, police shot and killed two mine workers while trying to control a rowdy protest by thousands of striking Freeport miners, who are demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
Papua, on the western half of the island New Guinea, is a militarized and underdeveloped mountainous province that is off-limits to foreign journalists and activists. It was annexed by Indonesia in 1969, following a vote widely considered to have been rigged by the Indonesian military.
Indonesia is enjoying its longest period of political and economic stability in recent history. But Papua remains a highly sensitive issue for the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the retired general-turned-president. A low-level insurgency has been waged for decades in the impoverished region, which is seeking independence from Jakarta. Dozens of political prisoners remain in jail for ties to the largely peaceful independence movement.
Elsewhere in the province on Wednesday, Indonesian troops opened fire on thousands of ethnic Papuans demanding greater social rights, killing up to five.
The incident occurred after about 2,200 police and army troops surrounded as many as 4,000 Papuan protesters. A declaration on self-determination was read out and a banned flag was raised, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission.
“Following this declaration the security forces opened fire, allegedly as warning shots only,” the commission said in a statement. “Tear gas was used and security personnel from the army and police started dispersing the crowd and beating up numerous participants.”
Hundreds of protesters were detained and at least 100 remained in custody, the commission added. Five were charged with treason and face possible life imprisonment.
The commission said it feared for the safety of those in custody and called for an investigation into the killings.
Indonesia security forces in Papua systematically torture and abuse prisoners, the UN has said.
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