Igor O'Neill & Cam Walker
Melbourne-based company Newcrest has come under fire from Australian environmentalists for the situation in its gold mine in Halmahera Island in North Maluku, Indonesia.
On January 7, a peaceful protest by community members in North Maluku at PT Nusa Halmahera Minerals ended in tragedy, as Brimob paramilitary, acting as security for the mine, shot and killed one, and arrested hundreds and subjected them to further police brutality. Eight-hundred-and-fifty people from the Kao and Malifut communities were involved in a demonstration in the Toguraci protected forest where illegal mining activities have been undertaken by PT NHM, a company 90% owned by Newcrest.
On January 12, Friends of the Earth held a picket outside the Melbourne offices of Newcrest, to protest the killings.
Human rights groups have slammed the company for failing to respect the land rights of Indigenous people around its Toguraci mine. The company is accused of paying paramilitary forces to silence the locals concerns, which culminated in the recent deaths.
The Australian Greens are among those who have condemned the shootings. On January 9, Greens Senator Bob Brown called on
Australia's foreign minister to immediately set up an investigation into the reported shooting.
"Newcrest, an Australian gold miner, has been at the centre
of controversy involving Australian government pressure on Indonesia to remove the protection status of 8 million hectares of environmentally sensitive rainforests", he explained.
"Alexander Downer has allowed the Australian embassy in Jakarta to be a pressure group for Newcrest, BHP Biliton and
other mining companies. He now owes the Indonesian people an explanation for events at the Newcrest site", Brown added.
Indonesia specialist Dr Damien Kingsbury has confirmed that Newcrest spokesman Peter Reeve had told him that Newcrest directly paid senior officers for protection, and these officers in turn instructed troops under their command.
"Newcrest claiming it is not involved in the killing is not correct. If this latest violence was not at the direct and specific order of Newcrest, then it was by officers employed by Newcrest acting on Newcrest's behalf", Dr Kingsbury told the Mineral Policy Institute (MPI) in early January.
Kingsbury has been investigating Newcrest's payment to security forces as a part of a study of Indonesian military and police business interests. For several years until December, the Indonesian military received payments from Newcrest in return for acting as security on the company's Gosowong and Toguraci sites.
However, in a speech to the Brisbane Mining Club on November 28, Newcrest chief executive Tony Palmer reported that the troops on the proposed Toguraci mine site had refused to evict more than 2000 local people who occupied the minesite in October. Palmer revealed that Newcrest was searching for a replacement force who were willing to do that job. In late November, the military were replaced by a contingent of the notorious Brimob.
Brimob has a history of killings at Australian-owned mines. After being asked by Perth-based Aurora Gold to keep local people off its Mt Muro mine lease in Kalimantan, Brimob forces shot and killed two people and injured another five in June 2001, August 2001 and January 2002. Nathan Scholz, a journalist from Brisbane's Courier Mail, reported that the assembled executives in the Brisbane Mining Club laughed when Newcrest's Tony Palmer outlined plans to use a militia to deal with the protesters at Toguraci.
Newcrest signed its lease to operate the Toguraci gold mine with the corrupt administration of Indonesia's now deposed President Suharto. As with many other contracts signed by the Suharto government, the lease gave Newcrest access to land occupied by indigenous people without due consultation and consent. Since mid-last year, local communities have been seeking negotiations with the company, asking that their traditional land rights be respected. Despite receiving several letters signed by local leaders including the heads of 38 local villages, the company has refused.
Newcrest has attempted to categorise the locals as "illegal miners" and "bandits", but MPI site visits during a five week blockade last year confirmed that protesters were made up of community members seeking respect for their traditional rights, who had agreed upon entering the site not to use violence or damage company property.
Australian mining operations abroad must be brought into line. The Australian government punishes the misconduct of Australian individuals such as paedophiles for preying on vulnerable people in neighbouring countries, and it is time we did the same and stopped companies such as Newcrest preying on the remote communities in which they operate.
From Green Left Weekly, January 21, 2004.
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