Unknown gunmen opened fire on a helicopter carrying Freeport-McMoRan mining company workers in Indonesia’s restive province of West Papua Dec. 17, injuring one passenger, a Filipina woman who was hit by shrapnel. The transport chopper with 23 passengers and three crew members landed safely in an airport in Timika town. The attack follows a string of mysterious shooting ambushes on the road linking the company’s massive gold and copper mine with Timika town. Thousands of Freeport workers agreed to end a three-month strike after a wage deal was reached two days before the new shooting incident. The attack came as thousands of unionized employees were preparing to return to the Grasberg mine following a three-month strike that has crippled production. Though the 8,000 striking workers were supposed to be back on the job on the 17th after management agreed to a 37% pay hike, the union said plans were pushed back so the two sides could iron out last-minute details.
Pro-independence militants have waged a long-running low-level insurgency against Indonesian rule in West Papua, which is off-limits to foreign journalists without special permission. Australia’s Green Party Sen. Richard Di Natale has called for his government to carry out an investigation of rights abuses by Indonesian security forces in West Papua. “Australia can no longer stand silent while West Papua burns,” said Di Natale. “There are reports of villages being raided and razed by Indonesian forces, which may have been trained and armed by Australia… [T]housands of West Papuans are reportedly displaced and some have died from an outbreak of diarrhoea in an overcrowded refugee care center. The Australian Government must urge Indonesia to end the violence immediately, withdraw all military forces from the region and enter into a peaceful dialogue with the Free West Papua movement. (AP, AFP, 17; Australian Green Party press release via Pacific Scoop, Dec. 16)