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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs     5 November  2011

Strike at Freeport mine

 In the highlands of Papua, where temperatures can easily drop to a chilly 10 degrees Celsius, thousands of Freeport workers hold fast to their demands against the owner of one of the world’s largest open gold and copper mines.

Above the estimated 8,000 striking workers, some of whom wear nothing more than a traditional penis gourd and feather-covered head gear, Indonesia’s national flag is always waving.

It is a rare sight in this part of Indonesia, which has seen rising pro-independence sentiment among the indigenous people. But workers say the display of nationalism is deliberate — a way to convince security that their demonstration is a peaceful labor protest and not a separatist movement.

“We want to show that we love NKRI [the United Republic of Indonesia]. We don’t want to be seen as separatists,” said Virgo Solosa, an official from the All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI).

“This is a labor issue. Our right to strike is guaranteed under Indonesian labor law.”

Their worry stems in part from the relationship between security forces, which have been trying to stamp out a low-level insurgency in the province for decades, and Freeport Indonesia, which has provided $79.1 million to Indonesian police and military forces during the last 10 years.

“We do provide voluntary support for the security forces to secure our workplace. We have been doing it for years,” Freeport Indonesia spokesman Ramdani Sirait said in response to the National Police’s admission last week of the payments it called “lunch money.”

Freeport admitted as long ago as 2003 that it had been paying security forces since the 1970s and had established a formal arrangement in 1996.

Freeport spent US$14 million to support government-provided security in 2010, according to Eric Kinneberg, spokesman for Freeport-McMoRan, the parent company of Freeport Indonesia.

The company detailed the disbursements in its annual “Working Toward Sustainable Development” report, which in past years showed expenditures of $10 million on government-provided security in 2009 and $8 million in 2008.

National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafly Amar has cited the insurgency issue to justify the need to provide added security.

“[Freeport] will never be able to defend themselves against these [armed rebel] threats just relying on their internal security team,” he said on Thursday.

“But at the same time, police cannot allocate such huge funds.”
Many workers feel anything but safe.

“We don’t feel secure to work at Freeport or to travel between the mine and our homes,” said Juli Parorrongan, a spokesman for SPSI, which organized the strike. “Too many people have been killed, but we don’t know who’s shooting at us. We need policemen to guarantee our safety.”

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