Freeport Indonesia reopens mine access after shooting

A file photo of trucks operating in the open-pit mine of Freeport's Grasberg copper and gold mine complex near Timika, in the eastern region of Papua, Indonesia. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - The Indonesian unit of Freeport-McMoRan Inc has reopened the main supply route to its huge copper mine in Papua, the company said on Monday (Nov 13), after the road was closed on Sunday (Nov 12) following a shooting incident in the area.

No one was reported injured when shots were fired at an escort vehicle travelling from the lowlands, but Freeport cancelled all convoys along the road on Sunday afternoon while the security situation was assessed.

"It was already open this morning," Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said, when asked about the status of the road. The temporary closure has had no impact on production at the world's second-biggest copper mine, Pratama said.

The incident was the latest in a string of shootings near the mine since mid-August that have killed one police officer and wounded at least six others.

Authorities have declared a state of emergency and stepped up security in the area around Tembagapura village, about 10km from the mine.

The separatist West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), a group linked to the Free Papua Movement, has said it is at war with police, military and Freeport. It was not immediately clear if TPN-OPM was behind Sunday's shooting.

Police in Indonesia's eastern-most province on Sunday said they would issue a notice to an "armed criminal group" that authorities say are occupying villages in Mimika regency, where Freeport's Grasberg mine is located, and demand that the rebels surrender their weapons and turn themselves in.

Freeport spokesman Pratama said he had received no reports of kidnapped employees. Papua Police chief Boy Rafli Amar told local media on Sunday that "there were reports that an employee of PT Freeport has been kidnapped by the armed criminal group."

Pratama said police reports that a Freeport excavator had been used by the group to dig up a road to Banti, one of the villages authorities said was occupied by the rebel group, were also unconfirmed.

About 200 officers were standing by to secure the area by force if necessary, police officials said.

Papua has had a long-running, and sometimes violent, separatist movement since the province was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised 1969 UN-backed referendum.

Foreign journalists have in the past required special permission to report in Papua, and once there, have had security forces restrict their movement and work.

President Joko Widodo has pledged to make the region more accessible to foreign media by inviting reporters on government-sponsored trips, although coverage remains difficult.

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