11 Jul 2009

Australian shot dead at Papuan gold and copper mine

9:29 pm on 11 July 2009

An Australian man has been shot dead by unknown attackers at a gold and copper mine in the Papua region of Indonesia.

Papua police chief Bagus Ekodanto has confirmed that the victim, an Australian technical expert, was killed at about dawn on Saturday as he travelled in a car with three others on his way to a game of golf.

The incident took place on a road in the mining concession area belonging to the local subsidiary of US-based Freeport McMoRan, which operates the massive Grasberg gold and copper mine in Eastern Papua Province.

"A shot was fired and a bullet struck a ... vehicle, fatally wounding one employee riding in the back seat," a statement from the subsidiary company says. "Other passengers were not injured."

Security was raised around the mine on Saturday and anti-terrorism police are investigating, but mining has not been disrupted, according to the company.

Earlier this week, there was an arson attack near the mine; and two American teachers and an Indonesian colleague who worked at the mine were shot dead in an ambush near it in 2002.

US and Indonesian investigators found that Papuan separatist rebels were behind that attack, but local rights groups have long maintained the military had a hand in the killings.

Outflow of mine profit resented by locals

Papua, a desperately poor and militarised province on Indonesia's easternmost tip, is home to separatist rebels who denounce PT Freeport as a symbol of Jakarta's rule.

The Indonesian government does not allow foreign media to freely report in Papua, where it has tens of thousands of troops deployed. The site of Saturday's shooting is inaccessible to local reporters.

The mining operation has been a continuous source of friction with local Papuans angered over the outflow of profit to foreign investors, while they remain poor. Freeport has extracted billions of dollars in gold from the mine.

Grasberg is one of the world's largest single producers of copper and gold, according to the company's website.