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Rape by guards at mine sparked war

South China Morning Post - January 30, 1997

Joe Leahy in Jakarta – A tribal war in Irian Jaya was started by a rape case involving two security guards working for the giant American copper and gold mining firm, Freeport Indonesia, it was revealed yesterday.

Reports quoted military sources as saying the battle, fought with stone axes and bows and arrows in the steep mountains of Indonesia's eastern province, had claimed six lives and left 52 wounded.

The battle, about three kilometres from the mining town of Tembagapura in southwestern Irian Jaya, was mostly between indigenous Amungme tribesmen and ethnic Dani migrants from the Baliem Valley about 200 km to the northeast.

It involved the Banti and Utikini villages in the Wa'a Valley, less than 10 km from Freeport's giant Grasberg copper and gold mine.

Thomas Wanmang, the secretary of the Irian-based indigenous rights group, Lemasa, said preliminary investigations suggested the war was sparked by an incident involving two Freeport employees.

"Three Dani housewives were offered rice by the Freeport security officers. They were then lured into a container and then raped for a day," Mr Wanmang said.

Freeport spokesman Ed Pressman admitted the company's security guards were involved but denied one of its containers was used.

"The guards were Amungme. They were recent hires - part of our promise to double the number of Irianese in the workforce. There's really no correlation between their actions and Freeport," Mr Pressman said.

Mr Wanmang said the Amungme guards and the Dani women's families tried to negotiate compensation on Saturday morning but tempers flared and the dispute erupted into violence.

It remained unresolved the next morning when another dispute, this time thought to be over land, prompted full-scale tribal war.

Mr Wanmang claimed the military and Freeport authorities at first did nothing, treating the war as a spectacle.

Many of the tribesmen, especially the Dani, still wear traditional dress including the penis gourd and carry Stone Age weapons such as axes, spears and bows and arrows.

"Witnesses said the authorities acted like journalists, videoing the conflict and taking pictures. They behaved like an audience," Mr Wanmang said.

"One time, when a tribesman who was hit by an arrow was being taken to hospital, some people stopped the ambulance to take pictures of the victim."

Mr Wanmang said the battle was continuing despite a report in Jakarta's Kompas daily quoting the district military commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Tony Husodo, as saying the situation was under control.

The paper also quoted Major-General Johny Lumintang, commander of the Trikora military region, which includes Irian Jaya, as giving the names of the six who died.

A Freeport official said this week the Dani people and other tribes arrived in the Wa'a Valley last February and March seeking jobs and medical care.

They took part in riots in Tembagapura and refused to go home, placing strain on the Amungme's homeland.