A group of armed separatists were occupying two villages near a huge US-Indonesia owned copper mine in eastern Papua province, police said on Friday as they sought to end the stand-off. About 1,300 residents were being held hostage by two dozen separatists who authorities said were part of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which has been fighting a long-running insurgency marked by periodic bouts of violence.
Villagers have been prevented from entering or leaving their small communities for two days. Authorities said so far none of the hostages have been harmed, and about 700 heavily armed Indonesian military personnel are keeping watch over the situation. “These people are from a criminal group that commit violence and intimidation – what they want is war,” said local police chief Victor Dean MACBON. “For now we are prioritising pre-emptive and preventive measures. We still have not forced our way in because we don’t want the villagers to be victimised.”
The villages sit near US firm Freeport-McMoRan’s mine – half-owned by the Indonesian government – where there have been a string of recent shootings including one in late October that left a policeman dead. Papua has faced a low-level insurgency since it was annexed by Indonesia in the late 1960s, with Freeport’s mine frequently a flashpoint in the struggle for independence and a bigger share of the region’s rich resources. Jakarta has long kept a tight grip on the region with a heavy military and police presence.
Officers said on Friday they have been communicating with local religious and community leaders in a bid to end the stand-off. Suryadi DIAZ, a spokesman for Papua police, said the group is trying to disrupt activities at the nearby mine and had demanded police not intervene. But it was not immediately clear if the group had made any other specific demands. Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo warned that the army was ready to end the hostage situation in a “hard” way if negotiations collapsed.
“Currently [the Indonesian military] is monitoring and observing because those who are held hostage by Free Papua Movement are civilians. We should handle this cautiously,” Nurmantyo said. Freeport spokesman Riza Pratama said the group has not made any demands to the company and production was so far unaffected.