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

Publisher Name: 
InterPress Service

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.

AMP Section Name:Human Rights