Friday, April 07, 2006

Newmont Predations Incite Forceful Community Defense

Newmont on hot seat

Arsonists' damage at test site is latest trial for firm in Indonesia

By Gargi Chakrabarty, Rocky Mountain News
April 7, 2006

Newmont Mining's exploration camp in a remote, roadless patch in the heart of an Indonesian forest had been buzzing with rumors about a planned attack.

When General Manager Patrick Hickey heard about it, he pressed two helicopters into service and airlifted about a dozen women and foreign nationals from the site on Sumbawa island to nearby towns.

The next day, the Denver native decided to evacuate the remaining 130 employees after locals told him that people from Ropang village were walking through the forest with plans to set the Elang camp on fire. They were eight hours away, he was told.

About 30 Indonesian policemen took up position at the camp, which housed 20 small wooden buildings and four drilling rigs.

The attack came in the early morning of March 19, and the police either weren't able to or chose not to stop it.

The group of about 50 men surrounded the camp, hurling gasoline bottles and fish bombs (used to kill fish by underwater explosions) at the buildings. Within hours, most of the buildings were in ashes.

"I think the villagers from Ropang were stirred up by anti-mining (nongovernmental organizations) hell-bent on the destruction of mines," Hickey said this week.

Newmont estimates it suffered $500,000 in losses at the Elang camp.

Hickey returned to Newmont's Denver headquarters to attend a seminar and visit with his family.

He declined to speculate whether the anti-mining groups were the same ones that Newmont has blamed for inciting villagers at Newmont's Minahasa mine near Buyat Bay on Sulawesi island.

Reports that the angry villagers wanted $1.1 million for community development are unfounded and maybe an excuse concocted by the arsonists, since Newmont did not receive such a demand, Hickey said.

"I'd never faced such a situation in my life. We just did what we had to do - get everybody out of the camp and make sure nobody was hurt," he said.


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