Indonesia Detains 17 Suspects in Freeport Killings

Police detained 17 suspects believed involved in a series of deadly ambushes at the world's largest gold mine, an official said Tuesday.

The men were rounded up Monday at several locations within a few
miles of the Grasberg mining complex operated by U.S. conglomerate
Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., said Papua Police Chief Bagus
Ekodanto.

Police also confiscated ammunition, but it was unclear if the
bullets matched those found at the scene of shootings that left
three people dead, including a 29-year-old Australian, an
Indonesian security guard and a policeman.

At least 12 others, most of them police, were wounded in the
five days of attacks starting July 11 along a road between the mine
and the town of Timika.

"We are still questioning (the suspects) intensively to
determine their role in the three (fatal) shooting incidents,"
said Ekodanto, declining to identify them or give further details.

It remains unclear who was behind the ambushes.

Arizona-based Freeport has been targeted with arson, roadside
bombs and blockades since production began in the 1970s during the
U.S.-backed Suharto dictatorship.

In a conference call with analysts, the company's CEO, Richard
Adkerson, said he knew of 15 arrests, including one man he said
apparently acknowledged being a sniper in the attacks, and said six
people had been charged. The reason for the discrepency was not
immediately clear.

"We have been assured from the highest levels of government in
Indonesia they are committed to provide safety for our people and
for our operations," Adkerson said.

Papua is home to a four-decade old, low-level insurgency against
the government, and members of the Free Papua Movement - who see
Freeport as a symbol of outside rule - were initially blamed by
authorities for the latest violence.

Some analysts, however, believe the shootings resulted from a
rivalry between the police and military over multimillion dollar
illegal gold mining or protection businesses at the mine. Others
blame criminal gangs.

Military spokesman Sagom Tamboen said, "no members of the
military were among the 17 people detained by police."

The shootings were the worst violence at Freeport since the
killing of three schoolteachers, including two Americans, in August
2002 that sparked widespread protests by locals who feel they are
not benefiting from the depletion of Papua's natural resources.

Freeport employs about 20,000 people in Papua, where it has
extracted billions of dollars worth of gold and copper and still
has some of the largest reserves in the world. Freeport is one of
the top taxpayers to the Indonesian government, which is also a
minority stake holder.

Papua, a desperately poor mountain province, lies some 2,100
miles (3,400 kilometers) east of the capital, Jakarta. Foreign
journalists are prohibited from visiting the highly militarized
province of about 2.5 million people.


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