Gunmen attack chopper near Indonesia Freeport mine

AP News
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Posted: Dec 17, 2011 3:35 AM
Gunmen attack chopper near Indonesia Freeport mine

Gunmen attacked a helicopter carrying 29 workers and family members from Freeport-McMoRan's trouble-plagued gold and copper mine in eastern Indonesian, wounding one person Saturday, officials said.

The attack came as thousands of unionized employees were preparing to return to the Grasberg mine in the mountains of Papua province following a three-month strike that has crippled production at the sprawling operation.

Though the 8,000 striking workers were supposed to be back on the job Saturday after management agreed to a 37 percent pay hike, union spokesman Juli Parorrongan said plans were pushed back so the two sides could iron out last minute details.

It was not immediately clear who was behind Saturday's attack or what the motive may have been.

Those on the Hevilift chopper did not appear to be tied to the work stoppage.

Unidentified gunmen opened fire minutes after liftoff from the mining town of Tembagapura, said police spokesman Col. Wachjono.

With only slight damage to the body of the aircraft, the Russian pilots were able to continue on to Timika, where they landed safely.

Mary Jane Mather, the Filipino wife of one of the employees, was being treated for shrapnel wounds, another police officer said.

The Phoenix-based Freeport _ which had hoped the end of the three-month strike would spell the end of trouble at its Grasberg mine _ said a full investigation would be carried out into the attack.

Parorrongan, the union representative, meanwhile, said he hoped the striking workers would be back to their jobs "soon," possibly by the middle of next week.

The two sides still were hammering out the finer points, such as how to mobilize those who live far from the mining town and the need for a guarantee that those who took part in the strike would not face any sanctions, he said.

Indonesia has had a long, complicated relationship with Freeport _ a powerful player in the world markets for gold, copper and molybdenum _ and Papua, home to a decades-long low-level guerrilla war that has left more than 100,000 people dead, many at the hands of security forces.

The company's admission several years ago that it was paying military and police to handle security operations at Grasberg, located high in the jungle-clad mountains, has been a source of ongoing controversy.

Locals also complain that, despite the mine's massive profits, they have seen little benefit, earning as little as $2 an hour. They point also to environmental damage caused by mine waste products pumped into the Aghawagon River and its tributaries.

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Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report from Jakarta.