Feb 26, 2024 Last Updated 12:52 AM, Feb 22, 2024

What's Wrong With Freeport's Security Policy?

Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (Elsham)

The shooting by unidentified gunmen on 31 August 2002 on the road from Timika to the Freeport mining enclave of Tembagapura in which two American citizens and one Indonesian citizen were killed and twelve others were injured is a demonstration of the strength of militarism and impunity in Indonesia. It calls into question relations between Freeport McMoRan, PT Freeport Indonesia (Freeport's Indonesian subsidiary), and the military.

At noon on the afternoon of Saturday 31 August, a convoy of trucks carrying teachers and children from Timika's International School was seen by two Freeport employees stopping at mile 62-63 on its way back to Tembagapura. Minutes later a Freeport employee and his wife arrived at the scene and, seeing the convoy under attack, quickly returned to the mile 64 security checkpoint to call for help. Immediately after the shooting, the military blocked off the road between mile 50 and 64.

Decky Murib was an eyewitness to the attack and is currently under police protection. He was a former member of an indigenous Papuan civilian group recruited by the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) to assist with covert operations. He has told Elsham investigators that Kopassus members were involved in the shooting.

Eyewitnesses have confirmed that a Freeport company vehicle from its Grasberg mining site arrived at the scene just prior to the attack. The vehicle was driven by a Freeport employee and was transporting members of the armed forces. According to standard Freeport policy, all company vehicles from the Grasberg site must be checked out in writing. Review of vehicle documents from the morning of 31 August should provide important information about the perpetrators of the attack.

The military's accusations

On the night of 31 August there was an agreement between the military and the police to patrol the area of the shooting. The next day, 1 September at 8:00am, the police were fired on while conducting a search of the area. They took cover. Later, personnel from the army unit Kostrad 515 approached claiming that they were guarding the ambush site and had just shot one of the alleged 31 August gunmen. The military brought the body of the victim, Elias Kwalik, to the side of the road, where police investigators took over the case.

The results of a medical examination on Kwalik revealed that he had been dead for approximately 12 hours prior to the 1 September shooting. A Freeport employee informed Elsham investigators that he had seen Kwalik at Mile 38 at 3:00pm on August 31, waiting for a ride, and had recommended to Kwalik that he return to Timika because of the military operations farther up the road.

Despite a lack of evidence, Indonesian military and governmental officials - as well as senior Freeport management - publicly attributed responsibility for the 31 August attack to the TPN/OPM (National Liberation Army/Free Papua Organisation). In response to such accusations, the head of the the TPN/OPM, Kelly Kwalik, issued a statement on 17 September stating that he and his group were not responsible for the shooting. He reiterated his earlier statements that he had cancelled any plans to attack Freeport and reaffirmed his commitment to establishing Papua as a Zone of Peace.

Since March 2002, indigenous Papuans' concerns about the escalating threat of an Indonesian military and police crackdown led civil society groups including Elsham to urgently pursue an initiative on conflict resolution. The groups set up a Peace Task Force in July 2002, inviting Indonesian civil and military authorities as well as TPN/OPM leaders to enter into a dialogue to establish Papua as a Zone of Peace.

The culmination of the first stage of the Zone of Peace process was a conference co-sponsored by the governor, police chief, and the provincial parliament together with Elsham and other civil society groups. It was held in Jayapura on 15-16 October 2002. Major General Mahidin Simbolon, regional commander of the Indonesian military in Papua, was the only official who refused to participate in the initiative. As part of the Zone of Peace initiative, the Task Force separately met with Papua's police chief, chairman of the provincial parliament, and governor as well as all TPN/OPM leaders, including Kelly Kwalik, with very successful responses.

Immediate background

Regardless of the peace initiative or its results, there had been an increase in military activity. The day before the shooting, on 30 August, there had been a joint armed forces operation including the army, special forces, marines, and mobile brigade police (Brimob) in the area of the shooting. Attacks on Freeport personnel and local indigenous Papuans had been escalating since December 2001.

In December 2001, two Freeport environmental unit employees were shot at the Grasberg mine site. No investigation into the attack was conducted. The shootings were reportedly carried out by unidentified gunmen wearing military uniforms.

In April 2002, Kopassus attacked indigenous Papuan civilians in the lowland hamlet of Kali Kopi in which one civilian was killed and seven others were arrested and tortured.


On 25 May 2002, five to seven Papuans holding axes and one revolver attacked Freeport security guards at the main office building in the company's Western-style suburb town of Kuala Kencana. They then fled the scene.

Despite the fact that all of these cases had been reported to Freeport security, company management took no action to investigate and apprehend the groups perpetrating these crimes. It was in this atmosphere of total impunity that the 31 August attack took place.

It should be noted that the Indonesian military has a long history of destabilising violence in the area of Freeport's mining operations. For example, in 1994, armed forces battalions 752 and 733, posing as a TPN/OPM unit, shot and killed a Freeport employee on the road near Mile 62. An Australian employee was shot and wounded in the same incident. In March 1996, the military orchestrated a 'riot' that caused the closure of the mining operation for three days. This led to an exponential increase in the number of troops based in the area.

Freeport's security policy

The 31 August attack is reminiscent of previous military assaults on Freeport employees and the military's other destructive acts directed at the company. Not only have elements of the military attacked Freeport employees and the local community, they have also stolen Freeport property. Soldiers of the army unit Kostrad 515 while on duty at Freeport in March-June 2002 stole six tons of wire from a factory at mile 74 and later sold it for Rp 8,000 [US$.90] per kilogram. They also stole Caterpillar trucks with an estimated value of US$150,000 from a warehouse at mile 39 in mid-June 2002.

From a business standpoint, these criminal activities by the company's security forces are extremely disadvantageous to Freeport shareholders' interests. Although Freeport management is aware of these cases, the corporation has taken no legal action against the perpetrators.

Freeport's lack of responsiveness is further demonstrated by its policy after the human rights violations in 1994-5. The Indonesian armed forces killed or disappeared 16 civilians, raped five local women, and tortured and arbitrarily detained dozens of other community members. While corporate management publicly stated its concern about the abuses on several occasions, Freeport continued to augment its relationship with the Indonesian military.

Since 1995, Freeport officials have claimed that Freeport's Contract of Work (COW) with the Indonesian government actually requires the company to provide logistical support to the Indonesian military and police. However, none of the company's COWs includes any such explicit stipulation.

Freeport's continual failure to act in response to human rights violations and other violent attacks in the lead up to the 31 August shootings, and even more interestingly, its failure to respond to criminal activities of the security forces against its own business interests, calls into question its security policy and its commitment to the protection of its employees and human rights more generally.

Elsham is concerned that this case will be dealt with in the same manner as the November 2001 assassination of Papuan leader Theys Eluay, which has resulted in the trial of Kopassus soldiers as individuals before a military tribunal, with no investigation into the decision-makers who ordered the killing or the state policies of which the killing was a result. Unless the policies of the Indonesian central government and Freeport security are investigated, human rights violations and attacks of this nature will continue with impunity.

Elsham (ElshamNewsService@jayapura.wasantara.net.id), founded in 1998, is based in Jayapura, West Papua. This article is extracted from a longer report issued on October 21, 2002. The full report can be obtained at Elsham's website www.geocities.com/elshamnewsservice. The army has threatened to sue Elsham for alleging army responsibility for the killings.

Inside Indonesia 73: Jan - Mar 2003

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