Four die in Papua as violence flares at American-run mine

Click to follow

Three police and a soldier were bludgeoned to death by protesters demanding the closure of a US-owned gold mine in eastern Indonesia yesterday. Dozens of people also were wounded in the daylong clashes, some seriously.

It was the most violent in a series of demonstrations against Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.'s mine in Papua province, which is also home to a separatist rebellion. The killings were certain to raise tensions even higher.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for calm and promised to investigate, sending the country's top military brass to the remote region.

Hundreds of protesters blockaded the road outside a university in the provincial capital early yesterday morning calling on the government to close the gold mine, said to be the world's largest. They claimed it had brought little or no benefits to the local community.

Riot police tried to break up the rally with tear gas and baton charges, but the rock-hurling students refused to move.

Lt. Col. Paulus Waterpauw said some of the demonstrators ran down three policeman and a soldier - bludgeoning them to death with rocks and knives.

"The killers are no longer human beings," said police spokesman Col. Kertono Wangsadisastra. "They went wild."

Hospitals said at least 19 police and eight protesters were injured in the melee, many of them seriously.

Some had gunshot wounds, doctors said, though security forces denied using live ammunition.

"They only fired blanks and rubber bullets," Waterpauw said.

The mine is often held up by separatists as a symbol of the unfair division of resources between the capital and Papua, and Yudhoyono warned Thursday that some people may be trying to manipulate anger over Freeport into a push for independence.

Some in Papua are angry about the environmental damage caused by the mine, and the New Orleans-based company's practice of paying soldiers to guard the facility is also deeply unpopular.

"We want Freeport to close because it has not given any benefits to the people of Papua, in fact it's made them suffer," said protester Kosmos Yual.

Sporadic clashes continued throughout the afternoon, with gun shots repeatedly heard across the city, though it was not clear who was shooting. But by night fall the blockade had been lifted and a tense calm restored.

"The situation is under control," national police chief Gen. Sutanto, who goes by only one name, told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in the capital Jakarta. "Now we will let the legal process take its course."

Ten people have been arrested, but those involved in Thursday's killings fled into a nearby jungle, police said.