Jul 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:22 AM, Jul 16, 2024

'They don't consider us real humans'

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Pieter Magal works in community development at Freeport. He is from the local Amungme tribe, and speaks of both the good and the bad that Freeport has brought.

What impact has Freeport had on the Amungme community?

The main impact has been suffering, spiritual and physical suffering. Our sacred sites have been destroyed by their sophisticated technology, and they do not value us as human beings. Rather, they see us as creatures in the process of becoming human.

There are reports about restrictions on freedom of movement of the Amungme people, especially women. Is that true?

Yes. In some places, Amungme women have to report to a guard post when they go to their gardens and when they come home. In November last year Amungme representatives accompanied Bishop Munninghoff on a trip to some regions around the mines. At Tsinga they told us they were required to report at guard houses when they went to and from their gardens. If they are a little late, they are asked all sorts of questions. Even if they are not physically tortured, they feel intimidated and pressured by their questioners, who accuse them of communicating with the OPM. In the past, the people lived freely and could come and go as they pleased. It was quite normal to spend one or two days at a time in the gardens, to sleep overnight there. But now they are watched and cannot do this anymore.

After this we met with Freeport management and told them that the people were unhappy with the situation. They promised us they would look into it, but to the present there has been no change. In fact, we heard that just a few days after our visit to Tsinga all the young people fled to the forest because of the intimidation. They have still not returned. They have joined with Kelly Kwalik of the OPM.

What is the situation in Timika since the riots? Are there many troops now?

In fact the situation is normal, it is calm. But it is a false calm, a calm forced on the local people by the massive force there. People are not quiet because their hearts are quiet, but because they are afraid.

At the seminar on Freeport prior to the INFID conference, Freeport spokesperson Mr. Paul Murphy said he believed the riots were organised, but he did not know whether by NGOs or by the military. Do you have a comment?

If we look at how the military behaved during the riots, it is clear they were indeed engineered by the military to further their own interests. Their aim was to destroy the struggle of Lemasa to represent the Amungme people and to demand the rights of the Amungme people.

When the riot started, military troops were present, but took no action. Military vehicles were present in the midst of the riot, some of the rioters were even seen inside military vehicles. No action was taken. At both Tembagapura and Timika we know that the people were given permission by the military to participate in the riot for two hours. A number of rioters told us this directly. So we concluded the military were deeply involved in the riots.

Murphy claimed the Freeport mine has caused a great population increase in the Timika area, as people from other tribes come there. Can you comment on his view that inter-tribal conflict generated by this situation was a cause of the recent riots?

Indeed, there are conflicts between the Amungme people and newcomers from other tribes. But we have our own means of resolving these conflicts. They are quite normal. There are many different tribes in the area. And long before the government, Freeport and the churches came there, there was communication between all the tribes. There were contacts from the time of our ancestors. We used to barter with them. The Amungme people would exchange goods with the Moni, Kari, Dani and the others.

And if there was a conflict - about territorial boundaries, hunting grounds, rights, women, dowry or anything else - we have our own customary ways of resolving these conflicts. Our traditional laws are far more just than the law of the Indonesian state. Freeport just wants to blame everything on conflict between the tribes in order to cover up its own responsibility.

Are there any Amungme employed at Freeport mine?

Some Amungme people are employed at and around the mine. A handful are called members of staff, but are not given any power to make decisions. It's like being ordered into battle without being given weapons.

Why is this?

First, the company clearly doubts our abilities. That's what I mean when I say the company considers us not to be real human beings, but creatures in the process of becoming human.

Second, people who have positions of responsibility in the company have access to Freeport facilities: houses, vehicles and so on. But they don't want to give these things to Amungme people, because they fear that we'll use the vehicles to communicate with the OPM, to take them food, to transport them and so on. This is a new order from the military.

I work for Freeport myself, and used to have a company vehicle, a small truck. But now following the riots in Timika it has been taken away from me, and is being used by the military for patrols.

Have Freeport provided facilities to the Amungme people, like hospitals or schools?

Yes, they have provided several health clinics and small schools in the villages. In Timika there is a high school with a boarding house which can take in 118 boarders. I am the supervisor at this boarding house. These are especially for Amungme people. The health clinics are open to all who live in the area, and provide a free service.

There is also a 'business incubator' programme specifically designed to help Irianese people establish small businesses - by providing loans, getting contracts with Freeport and so on. But in practice it is usually used to help outsiders from Sulawesi, Ambon and Java.

We fight with Freeport over the bad things they have done. But we do not fight with them over the good things they have done. Some of the things they have done are good, like the health services. Almost 60% of patients at the Freeport health services are from the local community.

Inside Indonesia 47: Jul-Sep 1996

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