Indonesian general admits to accepting cash from U.S. mining company

A senior Indonesian general has admitted that the military received massive payments from a U.S. mining company for providing security at a gold and copper mine in the remote eastern province of Papua, a newspaper reported Thursday. Maj. Gen. Mahidin Simbolon denied receiving any of the money personally, saying it had been paid to batallion commanders based in the mountainous province and was used to supply their units and to pay for expenses including transport, clothing meals and medicines, according to The Jakarta Post.

His comments came in response to an article published Tuesday in The New York Times detailing how New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan Co. paid large sums of money directly to military commanders in the area. Simbolon did not say how much money he accepted on behalf of the military, but the newspaper said Freeport had paid local commanders at least US$20 million (Ђ16.8 million) since 1998.

Last year, international watchdog Global Witness reported that Simbolon personally received US$247,705 from Freeport from 2001 to 2003.

Indonesia regularly ranks among the world's most corrupt countries in international surveys. Simbolon's remarks will do little to raise confidence in the army, considered one of the country's most graft-ridden institutions, or the government's pledge to eradicate official corruption.

The revelations will also likely undermine efforts to bring the politically powerful armed forces under civilian command following the overthrow of the 32-year military dictatorship of former president Suharto in 1998. Only one-third of the financing for Indonesia's armed forces comes from the state budget, while the rest is collected from non-transparent sources such as "protection payments," allowing the military brass to operate independently of the government's financial controls.

"We've been deployed to difficult areas, don't we deserve better supplies?" Simbolon, a former commander of the regional military headquarters in West Papua and currently the army's inspector general, told The Jakarta Post. Freeport has been accused by international environmental groups of causing massive pollution in Papua's hitherto pristine jungles by allowing large quantities of toxic waste to seep into surrounding groundwater, reports the AP. I.L.

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