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Papuan Separatists, Indonesian Forces in Standoff Near Freeport Mine

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11/10/2017 | 01:21pm CET
By Anita Rachman and I Made Sentana 

JAKARTA--Gunmen seeking to disrupt operations at an Indonesian mine owned by U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Inc. are occupying two nearby villages for a fourth day as residents run low on food, police said Friday.

Some 200 police and Indonesian soldiers have taken positions around the area, according to authorities, who said they are negotiating with the occupiers to leave without bloodshed. According to police, they are members of a separatist movement that has long opposed Freeport's giant Grasberg copper-and-gold mine in West Papua, on the island of New Guinea.

Police spokesman Suryadi Diaz said the number of occupiers is estimated at 30, about half of them with guns, and that some 1,300 villagers are trapped.

"People start to run out of food," Mr. Diaz said. "So the local government has tried to carefully send supplies in with the help of village leaders."

In recent months the group has tried to prevent Freeport employees from working at the mine, including by firing at a bus last week. One policeman was killed in those clashes, police said.

Riza Pratama, a Freeport spokesman, said that the mine's operations haven't been affected and described the situation as safe.

The villages lie less than a mile from the Grasberg area, which is guarded by security forces numbering in the hundreds. The director of a local human-rights advocacy group, Elsham, said that a relative of one occupier told him that the group hopes to get the villagers to leave the area, not hold them hostage.

"They want to push them to a neutral area," said the director, Ferry Marisan.

The separatist campaign stretches back to the incorporation of the western half of New Guinea into Indonesia in the 1960s, and has resulted in intermittent clashes near the mine for decades. Grasberg has long been a target of protests--both in the province and elsewhere in Indonesia--by nationalists who object to a foreign company's profiting from local resources.

Freeport recently agreed to decrease its stake in the mine to 49% from more than 90%. It also agreed to build a smelter, as required by the government, which is seeking to build a domestic processing industry in place of exporting raw ore for processing elsewhere.

Freeport, Indonesia's largest single taxpayer, has invested $12 billion in Grasberg since the 1970s.

Write to Anita Rachman at anita.rachman@wsj.com and I Made Sentana at i-made.sentana@wsj.com

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