Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET on 2020-08-17
Separatist rebels killed a New Zealand national working at a giant gold and copper mine operated by U.S.-based Freeport-McMoran in Indonesia’s Papua province and wounded two Indonesian employees during an attack on Monday, police said.
The attack was the latest violence to hit the Tembagapura area near the Grasberg mine, the world’s largest gold mine. Since late February clashes between armed Papuan separatists and government security forces have left a police officer, a soldier and four insurgents dead.
“Members of the armed criminal group fired at three PT Freeport Indonesia employees,” Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal told BenarNews.
“One victim died and two others were wounded,” he said.
Kamal identified the slain New Zealander as Graeme Thomas Wall, 57, and the other two injured employees as Jibril M.A. Bahar, 49, and Ucok Simanungkalit, 52. Jibril suffered gunshot wounds to his abdomen and right thigh, and Ucok was hit in the right elbow and back, Kamal said.
The shooting occurred in the company’s office and housing area in Kuala Kencana, in Mimika regency, PT Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said.
“We are very saddened by the loss of a colleague who died in the shooting incident in the PT Freeport Indonesia office area, in Kuala Kencana,” Riza told BenarNews.
He said all staff had been transferred to a safe area nearby.
“Our top priority is ensuring the safety of all employees and their families,” Riza via a text message.
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) operations commander, Hendrik Wanmang, said his group was responsible for the shooting.
“It is better for Freeport to close down and stop all mining activities in the Timika region. We will not stay idle. We will continue to fight our way,” Hendrik said in a statement.
Inspector General Paulus Waterpauw, the Papua police chief, said the shootings were carried out by a separatist faction led by Joni Botak.
“At the moment a joint team (of soldiers and police) are in pursuit of the group,” the state-run Antara news agency quoted him as saying.
Also on Monday, another Papuan separatist group, the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), issued a statement about the attack on the employees at the Grasberg mine.
“The TPNPB has allegedly claimed responsibility. The ULMWP urges the international media to treat claims about the shooting with extreme caution,” Benny Wenda, the ULMWP chairman said in a statement.
“There is a long history of the Indonesian military carrying out killings, posing as West Papuans, in order to justify further militarization, security deals, and crackdowns,” he added. “Since its formation, the ULMWP has always advocated a peaceful approach to the political conflict, and we will not allow the Indonesian State to use this incident as another excuse to delegitimize and criminalize us.”
A low-level separatist conflict has simmered since the 1960s in Papua and West Papua, a region located on Papua Island at the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. The region declared its independence from Dutch colonial rule on Dec. 1, 1961. But that was rejected by the Netherlands and later by Indonesia.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded the region and annexed it. Six years later, the region held a referendum in which security forces selected slightly more than 1,000 people to agree to Papua’s formal absorption into the nation, according to human rights advocacy groups.
Papua was rocked by weeks of violence in August and September last year after news about allegations that security forces on Java Island had mistreated Papuan students ignited mass protests. The unrest left more than 40 people dead.
This story has been updated to correct the spellings of Hendrik Wanmang and Paulus Waterpauw.