Police claims that the killing of Papuan rebel leader Kelly Kwalik last month would improve security in the province’s Timika area were dashed early on Sunday when nine people traveling in a convoy of US miner Freeport McMoran were injured in an ambush.
Papua Police spokesman Chief Comr. Agus Rianto said that gunmen fired at two buses and four other vehicles carrying Freeport employees and family members on the highway between the mine and the town of Kuala Kencana, near Timika, where some Freeport staff live. The injured included one American and one South African national working at the Grasberg gold and copper mine, the teenage daughter of a mine employee, as well as four Mobile Brigade police officers on security detail, he said.
“The incident happened around 6:10 a.m. Papua time [4:10 a.m. in Jakarta] when the convoy was traveling from mile 66 to Kuala Kencana. When the convoy reached mile 61, gunmen opened fire from the left and ride sides,” Agus said.
American Howard James Lochart, 59, was wounded in his left eye by glass shrapnel and evacuated to Singapore for treatment, Agus said. Police Second Brig. Budi Santoso, who was shot in his left hand, and Second Brig. Asep Supriadi, who was hit in his left calf, were both evacuated to a police hospital in East Jakarta for treatment, he said.
The other victims included Police Second Brig. Sukarti, who was shot in his left leg; First Brig. Abdullah, who was hit by glass shrapnel in his right arm; driver Raintung James, who was hit by glass shrapnel in his left temple; Zamridhal, a Freeport employee, who suffered a hand wound; and South African Sandra Wilson, 62, who suffered a minor injury to his back.
Cindy Mokodampit, the 13-year-old daughter of Freeport employee Ramang Mokodampit, was shot in the left thigh.
Asked whether the attack might have been in revenge for the police killing of rebel leader Kelly Kwalik in a raid on his hideout in Timika on Dec. 16, Agus said: “We don’t know as they are still not captured yet. We cannot answer what the motive is before we get them.”
He said the Papua Police and the Army were tracking the shooters using sniffer dogs.
Freeport has been regularly targeted by arson, roadside bombs and ambushes since production began in the 1970s. It is also the focus of regular protests by locals who feel they are not benefiting from the extraction of Papua’s natural resources.
A string of armed attacks along the road between June and November 2009 left eight people dead, three of them foreigners. Police blamed Kwalik, the charismatic leader of an armed faction of the pro-independence Free Papua Movement (OPM), for the attacks.
But some activists and indigenous groups have accused security forces of staging attacks to justify receiving security payments, and because of a struggle between the military and police for control of illegal mining operations near Freeport.
Mathius Murib, a coordinator for the Papua National Human Rights Commission, said that Sunday’s shooting proved Kwalik was not the only person responsible for violence in the Freeport area. He claimed that military and police personnel would benefit the most from insecurity in the region and have long had a rivalry over security payments from Freeport.
“Remember that Kwalik is from a traditional [armed] group that’s different from the recent incidents, where the perpetrators were likely well trained and professionals,” Murib said.
He also said he did not believe that Kwalik’s successor was behind Sunday’s ambush.
A press release sent to the Jakarta Globe last week and dated Jan. 18 announced that Gen. Jeck Milian Kemong had been selected as the new commander to replace Kwalik.