Tensions and military presence due to conflict between mining companies in Nifasi increase

The customary council for the Papuan customary area of Meepago reported of increasing tensions in the area around Nifasi village of Nabire Regency, due to an ongoing conflict between two gold mining companies in the area. The operation area of both companies belong to the Wate tribe. Particularly villagers living in Nifasi village are heavily affected by the conflict, which has resulted in extensive military presence around the gold panning sites at the nearby Masairo River.  

Presence of PT Krystalin Eka Lestari
On 28 September 2007, PT Krystalin Eka Lestari (PT KEL) acquired the mining license for an operational area of 10.000 hectares in Makimi. The local indigenous community had agreed that the company would conduct gold panning activities in Makimi and signed a MoU with PT KEL (1677/AN-KE/2007). In accordance with the agreement, the community received 75.000.000 IDR (5.600 $). In exchange the community allowed PT KEL to conduct mining activities on an area of 10.000 hectares customary land at Makimi.

The mining operation in Makimi was supplied through a public road leading through Nifasi village,  so the company began to open a base camp at Masairo river (Kilo 2) near Nifasi without the permission by the local community. The establishment of the base camp caused a conflict between the parties because PT KEL also carried out gold panning activities at the base camp. Even though the company signed a further agreement with the indigenous land owner Didimus Waray, the conflict continued because PT KEL extended its operation beyond the agreed area.

Local land rights owners issued a complaint to the Mining Agency of Nabire regency regarding the expansion of PT KEL's mining operations beyond the agreed area. However, PT KEL argued that they would only conduct surveys,  so the unlawful mining operations continued. Nifasi villagers reported that soil and other materials were excavated and transported for gold extraction to the companies exploitation area in Makimi. In 2010 PT KEL left the Mosairo area after the Nabire Mining department and the regent of Nabire had issued reprimand letters to the company.

Presence of PT Tunas Anugerah Papua Holding Company
Between 2008 and 2014, the local gold mining  PT Tunas Anugerah Papua (PT TAP) under the lead of two Nifasi villagers arranged and received all necessary operational mining licenses for an exploitation area of 10.000 ha, located in the Nifasi area. The company was well respected by local population because PT TAP had shown commitment in involving the local people through shares of their profits, including motor cycles, monthly division of shares through bank accounts, monthly tobacco allowances for every household and regular donations to the three churches in Nifasi.

However, in 2013 a conflict between both companies occurred after PT KEL had claimed to hold the license for the exploitation of the operational area at Nifasi

Attempts of Reconciliation between both companies
According to the Meepago customary council, three attempts were made to resolve the conflict between both companies. The last attempt took place on 27 October 2016 under mediation of the Nabire District Police, which arranged a reconciliation meeting with multiple stakeholders from both companies, police, military and the local Nifasi community. During the meeting both companies agreed to temporarily stop mining operations and to disclose and submit their mining licenses to the police until October 30, 2016 for further review. Moreover, both sides agreed not to use any means of intimidation or threat against each other or the local community.

PT KEL repeatedly failed to meet the agreement. The company did not provide their operational mining license for review. Instead the head of PT KEL Arif Setiawan went to Jakarta, where he started a “media campaign”, giving public interviews on the mining conflict with journalists from multiple media outlets.

Involvement of Military
In September 2016, PT KEL established a base camp near the PT TAP base camp at the Mosairo River (Kilo 42) claiming the area as their mining site. Soon after the establishment of the base camp, 30 military members of the Yon 753 Raider Unit began to secure mining operation by PT KEL in Nifasi. Furthermore, the control post, which had been built by the Nifasi community to control the transportation of excavated soil by PT KEL, was forcefully occupied by the military members and re-established as a military control post (see Intro Image).

On 24 October 2016, two PT TAP employees named  Waseng and Hartono were kidnapped by a group of armed perpetrators at Jl. Martha Tiahahu, Kalibobo, Nabire.  Police officers of Nabire District police found both employees five days later at the PT KEL base camp in Mosairo (Makimi District). All victims showed physical signs of torture. However, PT KEL company leader Arif Setiawan denied any involvement of his company in the abduction. The case was finally settled outside the law under mediation of Nabire District police.

On 14 February 2017 Arif Setiawan, Head of PT KEL came to Nabire together with several military members, including two officers named Kolonel Bosco Haryo Yunanto and Major Lukman of the Indonesian Military headquarters in Jakarta organized a meeting with the local Nifasi community at the local military base in Makimi. The villagers were invited to have lunch and speak about further ways of cooperation. However, the villagers perceived the meeting as an attempt of intimidation and fraud. All villagers refused to sign the attendance list and asked Arif Setiawan to conduct the meeting in Nifasi viallge in order to involve all villagers. The following day PT KEL together with Kolonel Bosco Haryo Yunanto and four armed military members drove to the PT TAP base camp at Mosairo river (Kilo 42), and forcefully confiscated the gold which had been panned throughout the month. Kolonel Bosco returned to Jakarta the same day.

Background Information
According to Article 39 of Law No. 34 / 2004, soldiers are prohibited from getting involved in any business activities. Article 76 of the same law stipulates that the Government should take over all direct and indirect business activities run by the Indonesian military within five years after the adoption of law 34 / 2004. However, Indonesia is still struggling with the strict implementation of the law. The involvement of the military in business activities – although illegal -  is often justified by insufficient government funds for the maintenance of the Indonesian army.

The example of military backed-up businesses in Nifasi is no exception. One of the largest sites in West Papua where alluvial gold exploitation takes place is Degeuwo in Paniai Regency. The presence of mines has become a security threat for the local indigenous population. Mines and amusement establishments in the area are protected by police and military personnel, receiving protection money from the mining companies. During the past five years, indigneous community members in Degeuwo had repeatedly been threatened, ill-teated and killed by security force members. Official letters from state institutions and government policies regarding the closure of the illegal gold exploitation site have simply been ignored by companies and security forces in Degeuwo since 2011.