- Associated Press - Monday, March 30, 2020

TIMIKA, Indonesia (AP) - Gunmen killed a New Zealand miner and wounded six others on Monday near the world’s largest gold mine in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua region, police and company officials said.

The seven employees of PT Freeport Indonesia were hit by a group of eight gunmen when they were in a parking area in Papua province where a clash between security forces and a rebel group is ongoing, said local police chief Gusti Gde Era Adhinata.

Adhinata said a 57-year-old New Zealand man, Graeme Thomas Wall from Ngaruawahia, was shot in his chest and died while being taken to a hospital. Two Indonesian miners were in critical condition after being shot, while four others suffered minor injuries.

Adhinata said police are still searching for the attackers, who ran into the dense jungle.

The clashes, which began late last month near the Grasberg copper and gold mine in the restive province, earlier killed two security personnel and four Papuan independence fighters and injured several others.

The West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, claimed responsibility on Monday for the attacks. In a statement, spokesman Sebby Sambom warned mine employees to leave company areas that the group declared in 2017 to be part of their battle zone.

“We will keep fighting until Freeport stops operating and talks for the independence of Papua begin,” Sambom said.

Riza Pratama, a spokesman for PT Freeport Indonesia, said the shooting Monday occurred in the Kuala Kencana office area in Timika. He said government security forces and company security personnel have secured the area and have evacuated all employees from nearby offices.

“We are very saddened by the loss of a colleague who died in a shooting incident that occurred in our office area,” Pratama said. It was unclear whether the shooting affected the company’s mining operations.

The current shootout has caused about 2,000 villagers to flee for safety to the neighboring mining town of Timika.

Attacks by rebels near the Grasberg mine have spiked in the past year.

The mine, which is nearly half owned by U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan and is run by PT Freeport Indonesia, is seen by separatists as a symbol of Indonesian rule and has been a frequent target for rebels.

The Grasberg mine’s vast gold and copper reserves have been exploited for decades by Freeport-McMoRan, damaging the surrounding environment while providing significant tax income for the Indonesian government. But indigenous Papuans have benefited little and are poorer, sicker and more likely to die young than people elsewhere in Indonesia.

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