Brutal crackdown at Newcrest's Halmahera mine leaves one dead

Down to Earth No 60  February 2004

The death of a local man at the hands of police guards employed by an Australian mining company is a grim reminder that mining companies, backed by repressive government policies, put profits before people.

One man was shot and another almost beaten to death when members of Indonesia's special forces police (Brimob) broke up a protest by customary landowners at Nusa Halmahera Minerals' Toguraci gold mining area, on Halmahera Island, North Maluku, in early January. Several other protesters were badly beaten. Around 250 of the 850 protesters were rounded up for questioning, among them a clergyman and a village head arrested for provoking the protest. Most were later released, but six remain in detention and there are concerns about their safety.

Newcrest - Australia's largest gold mining company - owns 82.5% of Nusa Halmahera Minerals, with Indonesia's state-owned mining company Aneka Tambang holding the remaining 17.5%.

Indonesian and international NGOs have condemned the violence. Australia's Minerals Policy Institute called for Australian companies to be brought into line, and for Newcrest to be stopped from "preying on the remote communities". Newcrest maintains that the protesters were "criminal illegal miners", who were armed "to the teeth" with traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and knives.

Local communities are now demanding that the central government order the company to leave North Maluku, and that all parties involved in the violence are prosecuted.

The January shooting followed a series of protests by local communities, who have never been compensated for land and gold extracted from their traditional areas in both the Gosowong and Toguraci areas. The Gosowong area has now been mined out after four years of production, and the company is in the process of clearing nearby Toguraci for open-cut mining.

Around 6,000 traditional landowners from 38 villages around Kao and Malifut have been demanding compensation. They also say that the company's operations have polluted a local river and Kao bay, reducing fish catches. They want the company to fulfil its promise to build a school, provide scholarships and involve village heads in mine planning, management and supervision.

Until last year, the company ignored community requests for meetings and negotiations, arguing that it had secured the necessary permits from the government and that communities would share in taxes and royalties from the gold mining. In September 2003, the company finally agreed to meet community and local government representatives in Ternate - three hours away from the mine site - but no agreement was reached and no date was set for further meetings. In October 2003, around 2,600 people staged a mass reoccupation of the mining area, forcing Newcrest to suspend preparations. Newcrest said the protesters threatened its staff, damaged company property and were stealing gold from the site. However, the company's security staff (members of the Indonesian military) refused to evict the protesters and the occupation lasted five weeks. The protesters started collecting and selling gold ore to support themselves during the occupation.

Another meeting of company, government and community representatives was held in November, but again, no agreement resulted, and the community opted to continue its occupation. Newcrest then brought in Brimob personnel to replace its military security force. The Brimob force broke up the protest, by firing warning shots and issuing threats, and in December Newcrest resumed its mining preparations. The company predicted that gold production would start in February 2004. Newcrest's chief executive Tony Palmer said "The dedication and cooperation of the Indonesian government to achieving this outcome and continued legal certainty is greatly acknowledged". In December a public meeting, hosted by the mining advocacy network, JATAM, was held in Jakarta. On January 6th, hundreds of local people staged a further peaceful demonstration at Toguraci: 200 Brimob were deployed, resulting in the violent events the following day.

Activists and traditional landowners have called for the national human rights commission, Komnas HAM, to investigate the incident. In Australia, Greens senator Bob Brown and NGOs have called for an investigation into the Australian embassy's role in "pushing, on Newcrest's behest, for protesters to be evicted from their ancestral land by paramilitaries." Friends of the Earth staged a silent vigil outside the company's offices in Melbourne to protest against the fatal shooting and arrests.


Protected area

Part of Newcrest's mining concession is covered by forests classified as protected, meaning that open-pit mining there is illegal. However, Newcrest obtained a temporary 6-month permit in May last year from the forestry ministry to mine at Toguraci and has gone ahead with forest clearing activities, despite the fact that the overall issue of mining in protected forests has still not been resolved by Jakarta (see DTE 58 for more background on this).

According to data compiled by JATAM in 2002, Newcrest Halmahera Minerals has a mining concession covering 961,510 hectares, of which 366,610 hectares are classified as forests. Of this area, 21,060 ha is conservation forest, and 70,610 ha is protection forest in which no open-cut mining is permitted under the 1999 forestry law.

Reports say that fifty-two hectares of protection forest have been cleared at Toguraci, and a further 32 hectares at Gosowong. Local communities are demanding that these forests are restored.

Newcrest discovered a high-grade gold and silver ore deposit at Gosowong in 1992. The company cleared all forest and cleared the land, producing more than 73,000 ounces of gold in the first three years. Now machinery and workers have been moved to Toguraci, about 2 km from Gosowong.


What next?

The violent death at Toguraci are reminiscent of the fatal shootings at another Australian-owned mine in Kalimantan. This was at Aurora Gold's Indo Muro Kencana mine, where, in 2001, two local men were shot dead by Brimob guards (see DTE 52). Neither the company, nor Brimob were held to account for that incident or for other non-fatal shootings at the mine. Does this mean that Newcrest can get away with it too?

The local communities and NGOs supporting them are determined to prevent this. However, while the present 'security approach' in Indonesia is maintained, and while foreign companies continue to believe this kind of action is justified, it may only be a matter of time until the next tragedy.

(Source: MA 29/May/03; Tempo 16/Dec/03; MinenergyNews 23/Dec/03; Jakarta Post 24/Dec/03; MPI Press Statement Jan/04; Solidarity for Kao and Malifut Press Release 8/Jan/04; JATAM press release 2/Nov/03, 8/Jan/04; AFR 5/Dec/03, 15/Jan/04; Laksamanet 11/Jan/04)


DTE protest letter

The following letter from DTE was faxed on February 6, 2004,to local and national police, the North Maluku Governor, Attorney General and copied to the National Commission for Human Rights:

Dear Sirs,

We are writing to express our concern about the violence used by the authorities against the people of Kao and Malifut in North Maluku which resulted a man being shot dead by Indonesian police acting on behalf of Newcrest Mining Ltd.

The right to peaceful protest is a basic human right, protected in Indonesian as well as international law. The rights of indigenous peoples to their customary lands is also part of international law. This is included in the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, which the Indonesian government has signed. Therefore the communities of Kao and Malifut should be allowed to express their views about Newcrest 's operations in Toguraci Protected Forest. They should not be shot, beaten or arrested.

Newcrest is operating illegally in Toguraci. Its current mining permit only allows it to mine in Gosowong. The minister of forestry only lifted the protection of the Forestry Law No41/1999 for six months in May. That period is now over. In addition, Newcrest's mining operations at Gosowong have caused pollution in Kao Bay, endangering the communities' health and threatening their livelihoods.

    We call on you, as the responsible authorities for North Maluku to:

  • Stop the illegal activities of Newcrest Mining Ltd;
  • Initiate an investigation by an independent team into the death of Rusli Tungkapi;
  • Ask KOMNAS HAM to investigate Newcrest's operations and the actions of Brimob acting as their security forces;
  • To release immediately Reynold Simanjuntak, Asrul Hisuaibun and Fahri Yamin.
  • We also support Indonesian groups who are calling on the Indonesian government:
  • Not to license any mining operations on indigenous peoples' lands without their free and prior informed consent;
  • Not to license any mining operations in protected forests;
  • Not to allow the Indonesian military or police to provide 'security' for mining companies.