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Indonesian Police Round Up Suspects After Violent Gold Mine Protests


Indonesian police say they have arrested 57 people in the easternmost province of Papua, after clashes with protesters demanding the closure of a U.S.-owned mine left at least four people dead. A U.S.-based human rights group is calling on the Indonesian government to allow an independent investigation into the violence.

Indonesian police rounded up the suspects Friday, a day after three policemen and a soldier died during demonstrations in restive Papua province.

Armed police clashed Thursday with mostly student protesters demanding the closure of U.S. company Freeport's huge gold and copper mine in Timika Papua, northeast of the provincial capital, Jayapura.

Dozens of protesters armed with rocks were injured when police opened fire and used tear gas.

Obet Rawar, from the Jayapura chapter of the Indonesian human rights group Elsham, says the students now fear a police crackdown. He says many have gone into hiding in the jungle.

Obet says the situation in Jayapura is very tense, and police are now going door-to-door arresting those suspected of involvement in the demonstrations.

The Freeport mine has long been a source of controversy in Papua, with environmentalists charging it is destroying the once pristine environment.

Papuans, who live in Indonesia's most remote and poverty stricken province also say most of the wealth from the mine ends up in Jakarta's coffers.

The government has been fighting a low intensity conflict with separatists in the province for decades.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has refused to order the closure of the mine, which brings in the country's largest tax revenues. But he agreed to assign key ministers to look into demonstrators' grievances.

Mr. Yudhoyono has also ruled out independence for Papua.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says the government should allow Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights to investigate the latest violence.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, says any inquiry must be independent.

"The Indonesian authorities have a very poor record of investigating themselves, and holding themselves accountable," he said. "In fact, one of the main problems in Indonesia is impunity by the security forces, and so, it's not really going to be credible in a place as politicized as Papua for the government to investigate itself."

President of the Baptist Church in Papua, Socrates Sofyan Yoman, says people fear reprisals from the police paramilitary unit, known as Brimob, which has been accused of human rights abuses in the past.

"Now, in West Papua, especially in Jayapura, it's very terrible situation, very worse, because the Brimob attack the community," he said.

Human Rights Watch has also called on the Indonesian government to allow journalists, rights workers and other independent monitors access to all of Papua, currently forbidden by Jakarta.

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