The Stolen Bride

Irian Jaya Troubles Continue...

by Robert Bryce

The abduction last week of 24 people by members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) has intensified international attention on the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya.

The kidnappings, which occurred 120 kilometers east of Freeport-McMoRan's vast gold and copper mine, are believed to have occurred on January 8. According to Australian press reports, the abducted individuals include four British nationals, two Dutch nationals, one German, and 17 Indonesians who were in the area doing environmental research. The Brits were from Cambridge University. The other Europeans work for the World Wildlife Fund.

Through TAPOL, the Indonesian human rights organization, OPM officials have said that the kidnappings are "part of our new strategy" to focus world attention on the problems in Irian Jaya. The abductions come on the heels of a December 30 report by journalist Ben Bohane which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald. Bohane's story profiled OPM leader Kelly Kwalik, five of whose family members were killed by the Indonesian military last year during the rash of human rights violations that occurred in and around Freeport's mine. Bohane quoted Kwalik as saying that the OPM, which has been actively opposing the Freeport mine since 1977, when it blew up one of the company's pipelines, is justified in their opposition to the company's mining project. "If someone comes into your garden and steals your pig," Kwalik said, "and does not tell you or offer any compensation, then you have the right to kill them. This is tribal law."

He also said, "The mountains we call our ladies, Freeport is married to our mountains but they have never paid the bride price."

Kwalik told Bohane that the OPM would fight to remain in the mountains and threatened to kill any surveyors who entered their lands. Kwalik also said that the Indonesian military has killed 43,000 people in Irian Jaya since 1977. Officials with international environmental groups believe that figure may be too low.

Whatever the number of people killed by the brutal Suharto regime, the OPM has taken a huge gamble with these kidnappings. By taking Westerners, the group risks estranging the nations and organizations it needs for support. It also risks the wrath of the Indonesian military, which has shown little compassion for the rebel group. Press reports say the military has sent at least 300 troops into the region to try to apprehend the rebels.

As the Chronicle was going to press, reports from TAPOL indicated that half of the hostages had been released, and that negotiations between OPM and the military were being mediated by Dutch missionaries in the region.

The reports released last year by the Australian Council for Overseas Aid and the Bishop of Jayapura on human rights abuses in Irian Jaya were among the first to detail torture and bloodshed in Irian Jaya. The recent kidnappings ensure that bloodshed will continue. USAID "Deeply Offended" by Freeport Ads The administrator of the US Agency for International Development, J. Brian Atwood, is none too happy with Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett. In a December 7 letter obtained by the Chronicle, Atwood excoriates Moffett for the full-page advertisements the company bought in the December 5 issue of The New York Times. Referring to the ads' reference to Mark Twain, Atwood says, "Like Mark Twain, I am a fan of the truth. Your advertisement distorts the truth about United States Government work in Indonesia."

Freeport's ads alleged that USAID's funding of the Indonesian group WALHI resulted in the cancellation of $100 million in political risk insurance that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) was handling for Freeport. The ads said USAID's funds were being used "by some foreign interests to damage America's overseas investments."

Atwood took issue with Freeport's characterization of its support for WALHI, and said that USAID "promotes democratic values abroad." Atwood said the agency is working with "a wide range of advocacy groups to facilitate greater debate and more openness in Indonesian society. The fact that Freeport-McMoRan may not agree with some of the policies advocated by these citizen groups does not mean that the groups are acting irresponsibly. Fostering democracy in Indonesia builds stability and ultimately protects American investments there."

The Golden Rules

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold may have problems at their Irian Jaya mine, but profitability is not one of them. The company's mine, which contains the world's largest known gold deposit, has been the subject of environmental and human rights investigations over the past year. But Forbes magazine, which does annual ratings of more than 1,300 companies for profitability, growth, sales, and other factors, shows that Freeport does indeed have a gold mine in Indonesia. The January 1 issue says that Freeport C&G's profitability and sales growth over the past five years were the highest of any nonferrous mining company rated by the magazine. The company had 1995 sales of $1.6 billion, with profits of $241 million. Freeport's earnings per share have risen by nearly 176% over the past 12 months, and their profit margin of 14.6% was twice the industry average and nearly three times the overall average for the listed companies.

The Vote on the Evil Weevil

Rick Perry's name may not be on the ballot, but his butt is on the line. Cotton farmers in the Rio Grande Valley voted last week on whether to continue using the services of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation (TBWEF). Perry, the state Agriculture Commissioner, has been one of the eradication effort's strongest and most vocal backers. But the foundation has been highly controversial in the Valley and the San Angelo area, where cotton farmers have had one of their worst cotton harvests in recent memory. Both areas experienced heavy losses due to an infestation of the beet armyworm. State Comptroller John Sharp has estimated that losses will top $300 million, and critics are blaming the eradication program. TBWEF sprayed some cotton farms more than a dozen times with the pesticide malathion and many farmers say that the heavy pesticide inputs killed the beneficial insects that usually keep the armyworms in check.

The 3,116 farmers who voted in the election were to have their ballots postmarked by midnight on January 12. The ballots will be counted by TBWEF officials at their office in Abilene, on Monday, January 22, and an announcement of the results is expected the next day.

If the Valley rejects the program, it will be the first area in the country to terminate the boll weevil eradication effort. And even then, farmers in the region won't be off the hook. If they do send TBWEF packing, farmers will still be liable for some $8.8 million in debt that the foundation incurred while launching the program. The debt will be paid off through additional assessments on the farmers' land.

Midland vs. Erskine Update

Some readers have requested that we reprint the address for Midge Erskine, the Midland resident who is fighting the city for the right to leave her property in its natural state. Erskine lost the first round in federal court and is now appealing the decision. Write to: Midge Erskine, 3306 W. Golf Course, Midland, TX 79703.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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