Tensions near Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg Mine in Indonesia remained high on Friday as armed separatist group’s continued to occupy villages near the mine with the aim of disrupting operations at the copper mine.
Indonesia's military said that it was prepared to take tough measures against rebels who have threatened to “destroy” mining operations of Freeport-McMoRan..
Police say an armed separatist group linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) is preventing about 1,000 people in five villages from leaving an area near the giant Grasberg copper mine. A state of emergency has been declared and at least 300 additional security forces have been deployed to the area of the province after a string of shootings since Aug. 17 that killed one police officer and wounded six.
Reuters reported that the group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), on Friday denied occupying villages near the mine.
Hendrik Wanmang, a representative of TPN-OPM, said none of its more than 2,000 fighters was stationed in the villages.
“We cannot mingle with the community,” Wanmang said in a telephone interview. “That would endanger them.”
Wanmang also denied police allegations his group had carried out rape and torture of civilians and said villagers were "continuing to carry out activities as usual."
However, he warned that Freeport employees and security personnel remaining in the area did so at their own risk.
“We are at war against the National Police, Indonesian Military and Freeport,” he said. “(TPN-OPM) will continue to fight until the root of this problem – Freeport – is removed.”
Papua Police spokesman Suryadi Diaz said on Friday that the situation in the villages near the town of Tembagapura was “conducive” and that the community was operating “as usual.”
“They aren’t hostage, but if you want to get to these villages you have to get past this armed criminal group,” Diaz said, referring to the OPM.
Police were taking “persuasive steps” to resolve the conflict through negotiations and dialogue with community, religious and tribal leaders, he said.
The Grasberg Mine has been dogged by security concerns for decades due to a low-level conflict waged by pro-independence rebels in Papua. Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine project area killed 20 people and wounded 59.
More recently, Freeport, the world's largest publicly listed copper producer, has been grappling with labor problems at Grasberg and a dispute with the Indonesian government over rights to the mine.