By Sam Wanda
TIMIKA, Indonesia, Nov 15 : An Indonesian police officer was killed and a second wounded on Wednesday, after being shot in the back in an area near Freeport-McMoRan Inc’s giant Grasberg copper mine in the eastern province of Papua, a police spokesman said.
The officers were patrolling an area close to where a Freeport vehicle was targeted in a shooting on Tuesday, Papua police spokesman Suryadi Diaz said in a statement. Both were taken by helicopter to a hospital in the nearby city of Timika.
Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said the main mine access road from Timika to Freeport’s mining town of Tembagapura remained closed.
A string of shooting incidents in the area since mid-August that wounded at least eight people and killed two police officers has been blamed by police on an “armed criminal group”, but linked to separatist rebels by others.
The separatist West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), a group linked to the Free Papua Movement, has said it is at war with police, military and Freeport, but it was not immediately clear if TPN-OPM were behind the latest shootings.
The shootings took place on the 79-mile (127-km) winding road linking with the sprawling lowland urban hub of Timika.
The road, with many check points, runs beside a river rich with gold in tailings from Grasberg upstream. For decades, there have been sporadic attacks along it, but authorities’ efforts to catch the perpetrators have been hampered by thick surrounding jungle.
Papua has had a long-running, and sometimes violent, separatist movement since the province was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised 1969 U.N.-backed referendum.
Foreign journalists have in the past required special permission to report in Papua, and once there, have had security forces restrict their movement and work.
President Joko Widodo has pledged to make the region more accessible to foreign media by inviting reporters on government-sponsored trips, although coverage remains difficult.