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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Feb. 22) – The world’s largest gold mine, located in the Indonesian province of Papua, has closed down because of a demonstration by villagers accused of breaking in to steal minerals.

Up to 400 men, women and children yesterday set up wood and stone barricades across an access road to the Freeport mine, which has now suspended operations.

On Tuesday, two security guards were hit by arrows in a clash with about a hundred people said to have been scouring the mine site for small lumps of gold.

The last time the mine closed down was in 2003 after a landslide killed several workers.

Freeport says it has no choice but to pay the Indonesian military to protect its operations in Papua, although the law forbids transfers to individual officers.

[PIR editor’s note: According to PIR news files, when Freeport set up the mine in the late 1960s it was a pioneering exercise in an area with no infrastructure and inhabited only by several hundred tribes people. The company was the first foreign investor under Suharto’s new investment-friendly regime. But while the deal to build the mine was signed and sealed in Jakarta, nobody talked to the villagers who were affected - the Kamoro tribe which lived on the coast where the port was built and the Amungme, highlanders, on whose land the mine was built.

Freeport realized it must deal with the local residents, so it stepped up its aid to the tribes people and set aside one percent of revenue for a foundation, which runs local projects. It completed a hospital in Timike, which gives free treatment to local Papuans. Freeport also funds a business incubator scheme to help locals develop businesses to sell goods to Freeport, by far the biggest consumer in the area. Other programs teach work skills to adults, and assist children to attend school. (read related story).

In October of last year, Freeport said none of its employees or Indonesian troops protecting the mine have been involved in any reported human rights abuses in response to a report of the International Center for Corporate Accountability Inc.- Freeport’s first independent audit report on human rights. Then last month, a report by The New York Times stating that from 1998 through 2004, Freeport paid individual military and police officers and military units nearly 20 million U.S. dollars to secure its operations in Papua province, resulted in scrutiny from U.S. government agencies and a drop in share prices.]

February 23, 2006

Radio New Zealand International:

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