A state of emergency has been declared for the communities near Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia’s Papua province following the occupation of five villages by armed separatists who want to disrupt operations at the mine.
Reuters reported that around 300 additional security forces have been deployed to the mining area of the eastern province after a string of shootings since Aug. 17 that killed one police officer and wounded six.
“They want to disrupt Freeport’s operations,” said Suryadi Diaz, a spokesman for the Papua police. “(Freeport) is rich but they are poor, so they just want justice,” Diaz said, adding that the militants were a splinter group of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).
Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said the company was “deeply concerned” about security and was using armored cars and helicopters to ferry workers to and from the Grasberg mine in the province’s Mimika regency.
He said attacks had been launched along the road near the town of Tembagapura, about 10 km (6 miles) from the mine, where families of employees - including expatriates - live.
He added that so far there had been no impact on production and shipments from Grasberg, the world’s second-biggest copper mine.
Last year Freeport Indonesia contributed about a quarter of the parent company’s global sales of 1.92 Mt (4.23 billion lbs) of copper.
Arizona-based Freeport, the world’s largest publicly listed copper producer, has been grappling with labor problems at Grasberg and a lengthy dispute with the Indonesian government over rights to the mine.
The mine has also be dogged by major concerns over security due to a low-level conflict waged by pro-independence rebels in Papua for decades. Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine project area killed 20 people and wounded 59.