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Australia: Gov't Looks Away From Payments to Indonesian Forces

by Bob BurtonInterPress Service
February 7th, 2004

One month after an unarmed protester against the construction of a Australian-owned mine in Indonesia was shot and killed, the Australian government is refusing to warn companies against paying Indonesian security forces for protection.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) acknowledges that the practice of companies paying the military, known by its Indonesian acronym TNI, and the police, known as Polri, occurs.

''The Embassy is aware from media reports that some mining companies made payments to TNI and Polri in relation to the provision of security at their mine sites,'' a departmental spokeswoman said.

However, the department defends the practice as appropriate. ''The government understands payments to TNI and Polri for expenses and incidentals is consistent with Indonesian law,'' the spokeswoman said.

On Jan. 7, hundreds of protesters from the Kao and Malifut communities reached the proposed Togurici minesite in eastern Halmahera island that is being developed by the Melbourne-based company Newcrest.

After being ordered to sit on the ground, one of the Newcrest-funded officers with Indonesia's Mobile Brigade riot police (Brimob) first fired three shots into the ground and then, from a range of several metres, shot 30-year-old community activist, Rusli Tungkapi.

Another six were arrested, three of whom - Reynold Simanjuntak, Asrul Hisuaibun and Fahri Yamin - remain in detention. According to Indonesian community groups, the six along with the body of Rusli, were transported by Newcrest's helicopter to the North Maluku police office in Ternate.

The general manager of corporate affairs for Newcrest, Peter Reeve, admits the company helicopter carried Rusli's body to Ternate but claims the other passengers were his family members. Asked whether those arrested were also transported on the company helicopter, Reeve said: ''I'm not sure about the other claim.''

However, Reeve confirmed that the company pays something in the order of over 35,000 U.S. dollars a year to a 65-man strong contingent of the Mobile Brigade. ''We pay upkeep and an expenses-type service fee,'' he said.

In a 2002 report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned about ''predatory'' behaviour of the Indonesian security forces and warned resource companies should ''as far as possible, keep the Indonesian military and police away from projects''.

Last year Freeport-McMoRan, which operates the huge Freeport gold-and-copper mine in West Papua and is partly owned by the mining giant Rio Tinto, disclosed that it paid 10.3 million U.S. dollars in 2001 and 2002 to the military.

Campaign coordinator with the Mineral Policy Institute Igor O'Neill argues that payments to Brimob gives them an incentive to repress legitimate community opposition to mining projects. ''Mining companies shouldn't be paying the security forces. They shouldn't be paying them because they have unacceptable practices and a poor track record. It's no substitute for proper community relations,'' he said.

Damien Kingsbury, senior lecturer in international development studies at Deakin University and a specialist in the relationships between the Indonesian military and business, believes payments from resource companies to the Indonesian security are commonplace.

''It is a widespread practice in the resources sector that dates back to the Suharto years,'' he said. Reeve agreed: ''Yes, it happens at other mine sites''.

''I think you would find they wouldn't need security forces if they had a good relationship with the local community and had their consent for what they are doing,'' Kingsbury said.

While the Indonesian Commission on Human Rights (KOMNAS HAM) has announced an inquiry into the killing, the DFAT, which lobbied Indonesian government ministers on behalf of Newcrest for the removal of the protesters, remains aloof.

''The Embassy has sought information on the circumstances surrounding the death from management at the Newcrest mine site and from Indonesian police,'' a spokeswoman said.

It also does not accept that its lobbying could have been interpreted as a green light for crackdown. ''Embassy officials emphasised during their representations that any assistance provided by Indonesian authorities be done so in a peaceful manner, fully consistent with Indonesian law,'' a departmental spokeswoman said Kingsbury argues the government's defence is nonsense. ''Making polite representations around legal niceties in a place like Indonesia is a joke. It is almost Javanese in the sense that actors are on a stage and are seen to be performing particular actions but are all smiling and winking and nodding at each other when they know it is an act for public consumption, it is not a reflection of reality,'' he said.

In November 1999, Australian embassy officials in Jakarta worked with the Perth-based company, Aurora Gold, to ensure what they termed ''illegal miners'' were ejected from the Mt Muro mine in Kalimantan. In three subsequent incidents in June 2001, August 2001 and January 2002, Brimob shot and killed two people and injured another five.

In late 2003 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer dismissed a request from Australian Greens Sen Bob Brown to publicly disclose a briefing paper from Aurora to the then Australian ambassador in Jakarta, Richard Smith, on the incident in which a man was killed by Brimob.

''The briefing was provided on a 'commercial-in-confidence' basis and it would not be appropriate to disclose it'', Downer wrote.

Other companies too are under pressure to disclose their policies. A spokesperson for BHP-Billiton, which has an interest in a number of mines in Indonesia, said the company abided by the law in host countries and had an internal code of conduct. However, they could neither confirm nor deny whether the company made payments to Indonesian security forces.

Rio Tinto did not respond to a request for an interview.





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