Indonesia delivers supplies to villages after Papua rebels’ Freeport threat

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This handout photograph shows Military Chief General Gatot Nurmantyo speaking to the media in Jakarta about some 1,300 residents being held hostage by a two-dozen strong group that authorities said was part of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). AFP/Indonesian Military Information Center

JAKARTA  (Reuters) – Authorities in Indonesia’s eastern province of Papua are delivering food and aid to villages where security forces say an armed rebel group has blocked residents’ movement, as police and military surround the area, a police official said yesterday.

Police say a group linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) is preventing about 1,000 people from leaving five villages near a giant copper mine operated by the American miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

“We continue to try a persuasive approach and dialogue,” said Viktor Mackbon, police chief of the Mimika area, where the villages are located. Talks with the group would be conducted through public and religious figures in the region, he added.

Officials delivered two truckloads of rice, instant noodles, and toiletries for the villagers.

“Their access to these goods is not yet normal, so we must provide help,” said Mr Mackbon, adding that the rebel group had not tried to disrupt the supply effort.

Officials on Saturday said about 200 police and military personnel had been deployed in preparation for orders to secure the area by force, if necessary.

Reuters could not immediately reach members of the rebel group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), to seek comment.

On Friday, the group denied occupying villages near the mine, but said it was “at war” with the police, military, and Freeport.

A state of emergency has been declared in the area and security stepped up after a string of shootings since August 17 that killed one police officer and wounded six.

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

The incident is the first escalation of violence during the term of President Joko Widodo, who has sought to ease tension in the region by stepping up investment, freeing political prisoners and tackling human rights concerns.

Freeport’s Grasberg mine has been dogged by security concerns for decades over the low-level conflict waged by the rebels. Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine project area killed 20 people and wounded 59.

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