Ajitka River, Timika, siltation from Freeport mine, 1994


Some of the world's largest transnational mining corporations have been active in exploiting West Papua's oil and minerals, including Union Oil, Amoco, Agip, Conoco, Phillips, Esso, Texaco, Mobil, Shell, Petromer Trend Exploration, Atlantic Richfield, Sun Oil and Freeport (USA); Oppenheimer (South Africa); Total (France); Ingold (Canada); Marathon Oil, Kepala Burung (UK); Dominion Mining, Aneka Tambang, BHP, Cudgen RZ, and CRA (Australia). The international dispute over West Papua during the years after 1949 can be understood in light of the natural resources in the territory, which were far better known to the transnationals than revealed publicly.
An example of the level of profits involved is that of Petromer Trend and Conoco, which have produced 300 million barrels of oil from the field at Sele near Sorong, valued at $4.5 billion.
Areas where mining concessions are situated, most notably in the Ertsberg and Grasberg mountains, the Paniai and Wissel Lakes region, Fak Fak, the Baliem Valley, the "Bird's Head" western tip and the PNG border area, are where dislocation and suppression of the Papuan peoples has resulted in the most powerful uprisings and the most brutal reprisals by the Indonesian military.
Located in the Western Highlands is the massive Freeport Indonesia mining operation. Freeport's Mt Ertsberg mine is the second largest copper mine in the world, and also contains the largest proven gold deposit in existence, valued in excess of $US 40 billion. The latest estimate for the Mt Grasberg lode is one billion tonnes of ore and it is expected to have a thirty year life. The region around the mine is closed off to outsiders, as well as to the traditional land owners who have been dispossessed.
Freeport has concessions totalling 3.6 million hectares in West Papua following the recent granting of a 2.6 million hectare concession, and in March 1995 it was announced that the world's biggest mining company, RTZ of the UK, had bought an 18 per cent stake in the company, a $1.8 billion deal enabling a massive expansion of Freeport's existing operations. The Freeport company is Indonesia's largest taxpayer. Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, sits on the board of directors of the parent company, Freeport McMoRan, USA, based in New Orleans. (In 1993, the US Environmental Protection Agency released its 1993 pollution statistics for the entire USA. For the second year in a row, Freeport-McMoRan was the largest polluter of land, air and water, both in terms of volume and toxicity, in the whole of North America).
RTZ, the mining partner of Freeport in West Papua, is the parent company of CRA, the Australian mining company which operated the huge Bougainville Copper Mine. This mine was established by RTZ in the 1970s while Papua New Guinea was still an Australian protectorate. (A guerrilla movement campaigning for compensation for Bougainville's traditional land owners dispossessed by the company's operations and who suffer the effects of massive pollution, has been engaged in an on-going war since the 1980s, a war the PNG military has been fighting using Australian equipment. As a landowner, Perpetua Serero told a reporter in 1988, "We don't grow healthy crops anymore, our traditional customs and values have been disrupted and we have become mere spectators as our earth is being dug up, taken away and sold for millions." Estimates of civilians killed by the war or disease on Bougainville since fighting escalated in 1994 is put at over 5000.)
Freeport Indonesia's mining operation at Mt Carstenz has led to the construction of the modern dormitory town of Tembagapura for its workforce. It has led to great disruption to the lives of the local people, the Amungme, who are prohibited from Tembagapura and are being relocated at Timika near the airport which serves the complex, and which is one of eight Transmigration settlements in the Freeport area. Freeport is building a $US500 million "new town" with an Indonesian partner near Timika on the flatlands near Grasberg, which will provide housing for up to 20,000 workers and their families. (Freeport uses Cairns as a supply base, for workers, food, machinery and as an R and R location. Freeport contributes substantially to the Cairns economy, and is actively seeking Australian investment. It already has the support of some superannuation funds in Australia).
Recently Freeport moved the 1,000 inhabitants of the village of lower-Waa to the coastal lowlands. In one month alone, 88 people died from malaria. 14,000 people are now settled; plans are for a total of between 25,000 and 40,000 people to be resettled. In February 1995 it was announced that 2000 people living in the vicinity of the Waa, Arwaa and Tsinga valleys were to be moved in March. This is the region from which reports have filtered out of fighting in late 1994-early 1995 involving the deaths of about 40 civilians and the disappearances of up to 200 others.
Freeport mines 78,000 tonnes of ore/day, plus additional overburden. Virtually all of this is dumped as mine waste and tailings into the rivers surrounding Freeport, making the water toxic and thick with silt, smothering and killing all plant life along the previously fertile river banks. (Other mines like Bougainville and Ok Tedi in PNG have had similar effects). The Komoro people in the Koperapoke area have been ordered to stop consuming sago, their staple food. Freeport has distributed 78 drums to families to catch rainwater for drinking since the water has been contaminated. Plans to expand Freeport's operations within a recently granted additional 2.6 million hectare concession causes great concern for other communities and their environment.
Areas within some mining concessions have questionably been designated "earthquake zones", requiring the mass resettlement of tribes such as the Hupla of the central highlands, an unnecessary and destructive practice. Communities are often coerced into moving to lower sites, where they are more prone to diseases such as malaria and where traditional mountain foods such as pandanus trees do not grow.
The Chairman and Chief Executive of Freeport, James "Jim-Bob" Moffett in March 1995 said of his company's projects: "The potential is only limited by the imagination. Every other mining company wants to get into Irian Jaya. Bougainville and Ok Tedi don't hold a candle to Grasberg". (Ok Tedi is the gold mine in Papua New Guinea owned and operated by the Australian mining company, BHP. BHP is fighting a $4 billion law suit in the Victorian Supreme Court brought by the local land owners for environmental damage). An Indonesian group, Indonesian Forum for the Environment, (WALHI), has begun court proceedings against Freeport on environmental grounds.

"Indigenous peoples have the right to determine priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands, territories and other resources, including the right to require that States obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands, territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources. Pursuant to agreement with the indigenous peoples concerned, just and fair compensation shall be provided for any such activities and measures taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social or spiritual impact."

Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, The United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Mt. Ertsberg, Freeport's copper mountain, now an open pit.
Deforestation Dam Construction

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