Papuan protesters want local control of Freeport mine

Promised benefits to tribal communities have never been fully realized
Papuan protesters want local control of Freeport mine

Papuan protesters call for local control of the Freeport-McMoran copper mine during a Feb. 18 protest outside the governor's office in Jayapura, Indonesia. (Photo by Benny Mawel)

Protesting tribal youths in Papua urged the Indonesian government to seize operations of the U.S.-based PT Freeport McMoRan copper mining company and install a Papuan as the company's head.

"Other people from Indonesia and the U.S. gain benefits, but the Papuan people only receive the leftovers," Decky Ofide of the National Papuan Youths, who organized the Feb. 18 protest, said in a speech outside the governor's office in Jayapura, the provincial capital.

About 300 people participated in the protest.

He said the central government should take concrete steps to give more opportunities to local people in managing the company, which has operated in the province since 1967.

Freeport’s former president Maroef Syamsuddin resigned last month following an extortion scandal involving House Speaker Setya Novanto, who allegedly asked for shares in the company, an action leading to a probe by the parliament's ethical commission.

"The vacant post of president director must be given to a Papuan. The Papuan people must manage the company," Ofide said.

Father John Djonga, a human rights activist in the region, noted that the Papuan people have seen little benefit from the billions of dollars reaped from the mine.

"If the company says that the Papuan people aren't capable of managing the company, so what has the company been doing for more than 50 years? Well, we can say that the company steals from the Papuan people," he told ucanews.com.

Papuans would not stage protests if the company benefitted them ... so now the company must respond to the Papuan people's aspirations," he said.

Freeport-McMoRan obtained its first contract to operate in the region in April 1967, two years before Papua was annexed by Indonesia following a controversial 1969 referendum. The second contract was given in December 1991. In 2014, the company obtained its third contract, which will expire in 2021.

Freeport-McMoRan's mining operations have drawn frequent criticism for various environmental, human rights and workplace safety abuses. Benefits the company promised to local indigenous communities have never fully materialized, leading to frequent protests and clashes between local residents and security forces.

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