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IRIAN JAYA, Indonesia (December 23, 1999 - Indonesian Observer/Kabar Irian)---Governor Freddy Numberi has called on the government to halt PT Freeport Indonesia’s giant gold and copper mining operations in Timika district, saying the U.S.-based company does little to benefit locals in Irian Jaya.

Numberi said big companies such as PT Freeport have made loads of money by exploiting Irian Jaya’s abundant natural resources without considering locals who continue to live in poverty.

Speaking to university officials in the provincial capital of Jayapura, the governor expressed his dissatisfaction with Freeport, which he said does not care about the Irianese.

Numberi, who is also minister for state administrative reform, asked the government to temporarily halt Freeport’s mining activities.

"This company has reaped huge benefits from Irian Jaya for 23 years but has not given the best for the welfare of the Irianese," he said.

Freeport has made no efforts to improve the skills of its local workers, he said. He noted that the company doesn’t even have an Irianese manager.

Numberi, however, asked the Irianese people and students not to be offended by Freeport, saying the firm has been given a government contract.

He said revoking the contract could damage the government’s credibility in the international community. He added that the government can only review the contract.

Freeport contributed 1 percent of its annual revenue, or US$ 16.5 million, this year to a fund that helps seven local ethnic groups. Many Irianese say this is too little.

But the governor said locals should not consider Freeport as a Santa Claus who gives out presents.

Freeport Indonesia, which has done business in Indonesia since 1977, provides development assistance of between US$ 42,250 and US$ 56,340 a year.

Freeport’s Timika mines produce gold and copper concentrate. After smelting, the refined metal is worth an estimated US$ 2 billion a year. The 1999 revenues of the mine operator’s parent company, New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., are forecast at US$ 1.6 billion.

Freeport’s hospital treats cases of deadly diseases like cerebral malaria.

Crushed waste rock from its vast operations has denuded huge tracts of forest to the south. And it is likely to be operating for decades to come.

Police and the military maintain a strong presence near the mine. The rebel Free Papua Movement is known to have support in the area. The military also guards many Freeport installations.

The government has a 9 percent stake in the mine, which is regarded as a national asset.

Opponents say Freeport employs too few Irianese. Freeport officials agree, but say local education standards are often too low. Until a few decades ago, most Irianese were still living in the Stone Age and some still are.

About 5,000 Irianese are on Freeport company scholarships, some at the university level. The company hopes that some of those students will work at the mine.

Vice President August Kafiar, who is Irianese, says it is in Freeport’s long-term interest to employ more locals.

"Because Freeport is operating in Irian Jaya and the mine is in Irian Jaya, and Freeport has made a lot of money, it is important for Freeport to look after the people in Irian Jaya," Kafiar said. "We will spend less money. The goal is to make these people understand about business."

But Freeport is a business venture. Company officials quietly grumble about the government.

"If Irian Jaya becomes an independent country, Freeport has to deal with the West Papuan government," Kafiar said. "Business is business."

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News")

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