JAKARTA (Reuters) - The Indonesian unit of Freeport-McMoRan Inc has reopened the main supply route to its huge copper mine in Papua, the company said on Monday, after the road was closed on Sunday following a shooting incident in the area.
No one was reported injured when shots were fired at an escort vehicle traveling from the lowlands, but Freeport canceled all convoys along the road on Sunday afternoon while the security situation was assessed.
Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said the temporary closure has had no impact on production at the world’s second-biggest copper mine.
The incident was the latest in a string of shootings near the mine since mid-August that have killed one police officer and wounded at least six others. Authorities have declared a state of emergency and stepped up security in the area around Tembagapura village, about 10 km from the mine.
The separatist West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), a group linked to the Free Papua Movement, has said it is at war with police, military and Freeport. It was not immediately clear if TPN-OPM was behind Sunday’s shooting.
Police in Indonesia’s eastern-most province on Sunday said they would issue a notice to an “armed criminal group” that authorities say are occupying villages in Mimika regency, where Freeport’s Grasberg mine is located, and demand that rebels surrender their weapons and turn themselves in.
Timika Police chief Victor Mackbon said they were investigating reports that an employee of PT Freeport had been kidnapped by an armed criminal group.
Freeport spokesman Pratama said he could not confirm the reports of a kidnapping. He also said he could not confirm police reports that a Freeport excavator had been used by the group to dig up a road to Banti, one of the villages authorities said was occupied by the rebel group.
Freeport is “deeply concerned” about the escalation of violence, Pratama said, adding that the company was working with authorities to ensure the safety of its workers and the local community.
Grasberg workers have become “uneasy” amid the security concerns, union representative Tri Puspital told Reuters, urging police to handle the matter more carefully.
Despite a long history of shooting incidents in the region, efforts to end the violence had been “sporadic, and not effective,” Puspital said, but warned that a “hard” approach could further escalation.
Part of the problem is a perception locally that most of the benefits from Grasberg go to the “political elite”, he said.
About 200 officers were standing by to secure the area by force if necessary, police officials said.
Papua has had a long-running, and sometimes violent, separatist movement since the province was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized 1969 U.N.-backed referendum.
Foreign journalists have in the past required special permission to report in Papua, and once there, have had security forces restrict their movement and work.
President Joko Widodo has pledged to make the region more accessible to foreign media by inviting reporters on government-sponsored trips, although coverage remains difficult.
Reporting by Fergus Jensen; Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Richard Pullin and Tom Hogue