More recently, in early October, pro-independence guerrillas temporarily occupied a town some 50 miles from Grasberg, and within Freeport's area of operations, according to wire reports. They reportedly were driven out by government forces.
Troubled relations with Jakarta and those forces, pollution from the mine, government-enforced displacement, and the extraction of vast local natural resources for foreign profit, are said to fuel the movement.
Also, native Papuans, mostly Christian, are ethnically and culturally different from most other Indonesians, which are mostly Muslim. A government "transmigration" program brought some 770,000 migrants, largely Javanese and Muslim, to the province in recent decades. Resentment also lingers over the alleged torture or murder of some 100,000 Papuans after the Indonesian government annexed with United Nations permission the former Dutch colony in 1969.
Bush administration officials, like their predecessors, say they support preserving Indonesia's territorial integrity. They also "have strongly urged the government of Indonesia to abandon a security approach in Irian Jaya in favor of a political dialogue and to uphold justice, human rights and rule of law," James Kelly, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in June.
Officials also favor stepping up ties with the Indonesian military, mostly curtailed by Congress in response to military-fueled violence after East Timor's independence vote in 1999. Criteria were set for resuming ties, including prosecution of soldiers involved in human rights violations, which administration officials concede haven't been met.
Company Says Abuses Rare
Freeport officials say police and military practices near its facilities have improved in recent years. Rights groups do not allege recent abuses near the facilities.
While critics have alleged Freeport's more than 30-year presence in Irian Jaya is to blame for many of its problems, company officials say Freeport money and humanitarian assistance has helped make the situation better.
Freeport's construction of barracks and offices for Indonesian forces in the region in 1997 has helped improve their conduct, says PT Freeport Vice President for Communications Greg Probst: "Things really changed over the last few years."
Freeport payments to police and military forces also have been intended to improve the situation, according to Collier.
They payments are intended to "enhance professionalism and reduce the risks of conflict with the local population and human rights abuses," and "improve the quality of management of the military and police," he says in an email to ABCNEWS.com.
They also mitigate the costs and hardship facing troops posted in the remote province.
Collier says the payments are in accordance with a unique, joint-State Department-British Foreign Office-formulated pledge on conduct of human rights endorsed by Freeport and other companies last December.
He calls them a "legitimate response to its security needs, the limitations on the Indonesian government's ability to meet those needs, the unique role of the Indonesian military in social development, and the expectations imposed on companies carrying out business activities in remote areas like Irian Jaya."
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