Armed separatists occupy villages near Freeport's Papua mine in Indonesia

Armed separatists occupy villages near Freeport's Papua mine in Indonesia

Armed separatists occupy villages near Freeport's Papua mine in Indonesia

Updated 10 November 2017, 6:50 AEDT

Armed separatists occupy five villages in Indonesia's Papua province, threatening to disrupt a US-owned copper mine, which has already been hit this year by labour unrest and a dispute over operating rights.

Armed separatists have occupied five villages in Indonesia's Papua province, threatening to disrupt a US-owned copper mine, which has already been hit this year by labour unrest and a dispute over operating rights.

Key points:

  • About 1,000 people prevented from leaving villages
  • State of emergency declared
  • Freeport expresses deep concern about security

A state of emergency has been declared and about 300 additional security forces have been deployed to the mining area of the eastern province after a string of shootings since August 17 that killed one police officer and injured six.

"They want to disrupt Freeport's operations," said Suryadi Diaz, a spokesman for the Papua police.

"[Freeport] is rich but they are poor, so they just want justice," Mr Diaz said, adding that the militants were a splinter group of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said the company was "deeply concerned" about security and was using armoured cars and helicopters to ferry workers to and from the Grasberg mine in the province's Mimika regency.

He said attacks had been launched along the road near the town of Tembagapura, about 10 kilometres from the mine, where families of employees — including expatriates — live.

Mr Diaz said about 1,000 local residents and migrant workers who pan for gold in Mimika were being prevented by the separatists from leaving the five villages.

Security forces had entered the occupied area on Thursday, police and military sources said, but it was not clear if they had been able to evacuate any of the residents.

"We are trying to maximise protection for the community … because people have been raped and some have had goods stolen," Papua Police chief Boy Rafli Amar said.

The water supply of Tembagapura had also been contaminated with kerosene, Mr Boy said, but police had not been able to ascertain if it was an act of sabotage by the same group.

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said police statements on the matter "should not be taken for granted, due to decades of independent journalists' restrictions in Papua".

No impact on mine production so far

Mr Pratama said so far there had been no impact on production and shipments from Grasberg, the world's second-biggest copper mine.

Last year Freeport Indonesia contributed about a quarter of the parent company's global sales of 1.92 million tonnes of copper.

Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, the world's largest publicly listed copper producer, has been grappling with labour problems at Grasberg and a lengthy dispute with the Indonesian Government over rights to the mine.

The mine has also be dogged by major concerns over security due to a low-level conflict waged by pro-independence rebels in Papua for decades.

Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine project area killed 20 people and injured 59.

Papua and neighbouring West Papua provinces make up the western half of an island north of Australia, with independent Papua New Guinea to the east.

The provinces have been plagued by separatist violence since they were incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has sought to ease tension in the two provinces by stepping up investment, freeing political prisoners and addressing human rights concerns.

Reuters