Troops in eastern Indonesia round up suspects after bloody United States gold mine protest

Troops rounded up suspects Friday after mobs bludgeoned to death three police officers and an air force officer during a protest to demand the shutdown of a massive U.S.-owned gold mine in eastern Indonesia .

National police spokesman Brig. Gen. Anton Bachrul Alam told reporters 57 people had been arrested, though only five were named suspects, including a protest organizer. They could face charges of assault, murder or destroying public property, he said.

The demonstration Thursday was the most violent in a series against Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., the world's largest gold and copper mine.

The killing of the four security officers underscored the hatred many Papuans feel toward Indonesian soldiers and police. A decades-long separatist rebellion in the remote province has left more than 100,000 dead, many of them civilians who suffered from mistreatment, starvation and other consequences of the war.

Protesters say that while Freeport's gold mine has earned the New Orleans-based company billions of dollars, the local community has received little benefit.

They went on a rampage after gun-toting security forces fired tear gas in an effort to break up the rally, charging demonstrators with their batons. Hundreds of shots were fired, and though police insisted they did not use live ammunition, at least three protesters sustained bullet wounds. Alam, the police spokesman, said an investigation was being carried out.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sent top security chiefs to the region to investigate the unrest, and warned that some people were trying to manipulate anger over Freeport into a push for independence. They would not succeed, he said.

But the Indonesian government said it was possible the company could do more to help the community.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week that American companies operating in the sprawling archipelago should be asked to focus more on "community building," ministry spokesman Desra Percaya said.

Wirajuda pointed to Freeport and Texas-based oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp., telling Rice "more could be done in the area of corporate social responsibility," the spokesman said.

Freeport defends its operations in Papua, saying it pays millions of dollars in taxes each year and funds scores of local projects close to the massive mine.

Hundreds of paramilitary police stood guard Friday near the state-run university, the site of the demonstration in Jayapura, the provincial capital. The campus was largely deserted.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called on authorities to determine why the rally spiraled out of control.

The group's Asia director, Brad Adams, said police may have opened fire first, wounding several demonstrators, who responded by attacking the officers with rocks and knives.

One resident, Marcus, said he was walking by the university when he heard gun shots.

"I was chased by plainclothes police and then beaten up," said the 31-year-old, who only uses one name, as he recovered in Jayapura Public Hospital , his face badly bruised. "I didn't know anything about the protest, but I was a victim."

Papua, on the western half of New Guinea island, is Indonesia 's most remote province, politically and geographically. It has a population of around 800,000 and is off limits to foreign journalists and diplomats.

Since 2005, there has been a visible buildup of troops in the province, with reports of widespread human rights abuses, including arson, and arbitrary detention.

Critics accuse the company of working closely with Indonesia 's armed forces since dictator Suharto incorporated the former Dutch colony into Indonesia in 1969 after a vote that is now widely seen as a sham, reports the AP.


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