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US-Owned Gold Mine Halts Production in Indonesia

U.S. gold mining giant Freeport McMoRan suspended operations in Indonesia's easternmost province, Papua, after illegal miners blocked the road leading to the site.

Hundreds of illegal miners set up barricades of wood and stone blocking the road leading to the world's largest gold and copper mine in the remote province of Papua.

The blockade follows clashes Tuesday after police and Freeport security guards tried to force around 100 illegal miners out of the Grasberg copper and gold mine, which is run by a local unit of Freeport.

The illegal miners, who were armed with bows and arrows, shot and wounded several security guards. Several miners also received injuries in the clash, but no one was seriously injured.

Freeport spokesman Siddharta Moersjid claims the illegal miners attacked the authorities.

"Police were accompanying our security guards who approached a group of illegal miners and asked them to leave the area," he said. "A number of illegal miners attacked the security personnel injuring three of our security guards and one member of the Indonesian police. The police restored order and during the process two of the illegal miners were injured, not seriously."

Illegal miners earn their living from retrieving bits of gold from the waste rock discarded by the mine. It is a common practice across the Indonesian archipelago, where many people live in poverty.

Freeport has a history of troubled relations with the local people, many who eke out a meager living by illegal mining.

The mine spokesman did not say why the company wanted to prevent people from mining the waste rock.

Siddharta says the decision to suspend operations was taken as a precautionary measure. It is the first time Freeport has stopped production since a landslide killed several workers in 2003.

"Following the incident the group of illegal miners blocked the road leading to the mine and the mill. So the mining and the milling operations have to be temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure," he said.

Earlier this month Freeport security guards and police conducted several raids to remove illegal miners from the site.

Freeport operations in Papua have come under heavy scrutiny following reports it paid millions of dollars to the Indonesian military and police to guard the mine.