Law of the Land

Plaintiffs in Freeport Suit Are Harassed

The Indonesian mili- tary and local police stationed in and around Freeport-McMoRan's gold and copper mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia have launched a campaign to intimidate the indigenous people who are suing the company, allege human rights groups. In addition, Martin Regan, the attorney who filed a $6 billion lawsuit on the plaintiffs' behalf against New Orleans-based Freeport last April, claims that the Indonesian military has prevented him from seeing his clients.

The allegations against Freeport are coming on the heels of the company's mysterious cancellation of $150 million worth of political risk insurance policies they held with two agencies. On September 11, the company notified the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a federal agency, and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), an arm of the World Bank, that it was canceling the insurance policies it had on the mine. The cancelations were widely viewed by environmentalists as a way for Freeport to avoid scrutiny of its mining practices. MIGA was preparing to send a team of scientists to the region to analyze the environmental impact of the mine. The trip was called off after Freeport canceled the insurance.

Freeport has not had good luck with regards to environmental assessments in the past: OPIC cancelled Freeport's insurance last Halloween after the agency allegedly found environmental problems at the mine site. OPIC eventually reinstated Freeport's insurance last spring, as part of a settlement in which Freeport agreed to commit $100 million for remediation after the mine closes. OPIC spokesperson Allison Rosen said that the recent cancelation has "no impact to the $100 million fund. That was not contingent on the length of the insurance contract."

As for the claims of intimidation, they are just the latest such reports to come out of the mine region. Three reports released last year found that numerous cases of murder and torture of local indigenous people have occurred in and around the mine since 1994. The latest reports allege that Tom Beanal, the Amungme tribal leader who is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against Freeport, has been repeatedly interrogated and threatened by local police and Indonesian military officials.

Beanal's suit, which is pending in federal court in New Orleans, now has some 1,700 plaintiffs. It alleges that Freeport has "systematically engaged in a corporate policy both directly and indirectly through third parties which have resulted in human rights violations against the Amungme Tribe." The suit also alleges that Freeport has polluted local waterways with the tailings from the mine.

TAPOL, the London-based human rights group which focuses on Indonesia, has distributed a statement by LEMASA, the Amungme tribal council, which says that on August 12, Indonesian military forces "forcibly took away the claim forms (against Freeport) signed by the indigenous people of Timika for their attorney, Martin Regan." The claim forms were being gathered by LEMASA in an effort to add as many people as possible to Beanal's lawsuit. The plaintiffs plan to seek certification of their group as a class, so the suit can continue as a class-action.

The LEMASA statement goes on to say that Yosepha Alomang, a tribal elder who is the named plaintiff in a separate lawsuit filed against Freeport in Louisiana state court, tried to retrieve the documents from the military, but military officers refused to release them. Now, Regan says, those same documents have surfaced in New Orleans and have been entered into evidence by Freeport in the Beanal lawsuit. "Freeport's lawyers filed them in federal court," said Regan. "I'm interested to hear how Freeport explains their possession of stolen property."

Since the documents were confiscated, Beanal has been threatened with arrest, and Indonesian military officials have tried to link him with the most recent kidnapping in the region, which occurred a few weeks ago near Timika. Indonesian authorities have also told Beanal that he may not leave the Timika area without permission from the military police.

Abigail Abrash, of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, said the Indonesians are using the kidnapping as an excuse to harass Beanal. "There is no credible link between him and this kidnapping," said Abrash. "Our view is that the government and military are using this as a way to intimidate him. If you challenge the company and the government, then this is what you are up against. That's standard practice throughout Indonesia."

While Beanal cannot leave Timika, his lawyer cannot get into Timika. Regan said he flew into Jakarta on September 9, and then flew on to Jayapura, the provincial capital of Irian Jaya. There, he attempted to get an entry visa from local officials who told him he could get a permit from officials in Timika. Upon arrival in Timika, however, Regan said he was pointed out to local officials by Andreas Anggiabak, a former member of the Amungme leadership council who now heads the Amungme Foundation, a group set up by Freeport. Military officials then "told me I couldn't get an entry visa there and had to get it in Jayapura," says Regan.

"I was immediately escorted to a hotel, where I was kept under surveillance until I was put on an airplane back to Jayapura," said Regan. In Jayapura, he said, officials said that "Timika was closed and that I would have to go back to Jakarta to get a pass," and he was again kept under surveillance until he flew back to Jakarta. In Jakarta, after meeting with Abdul Hakim Nusantara, a prominent human rights attorney in Indonesia who is working with Regan on the Beanal case, Regan claims he was again taken into custody by Indonesian authorities and asked again about his reasons for being in Indonesia.

After the questioning, Regan decided to head back to the U.S. But he said he plans to return to the region soon.

Meanwhile, Regan said, Freeport has asked the court in New Orleans to have Beanal's case dismissed and returned to Indonesian courts for adjudication. "What are they afraid of in an American court?" asks Regan.

Neither of Freeport's spokesmen, Bill Collier nor Garland Robinette, returned phone calls from the Chronicle.

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As a final note, an article published in the Sydney-based The Australian newspaper on September 20, says that Freeport has found huge additional ore bodies near their vast Grasberg mine. While the paper did not assign values to the find, it said the ore deposits could contain an additional 250 million tons of ore. The Grasberg mine contains some $60 billion worth of gold, copper and silver and is the world's largest known gold deposit. The new find likely means that Freeport and their London-based partner, RTZ, will increase extraction rates at the mine, which currently dumps more than 120,000 tons of untreated mine tailings into the local river system.

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