JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Police fatally shot Wednesday a separatist rebel leader accused in the deaths of eight people including an Australian near the Freeport gold mine in restive Papua province, an official said.
Kelly Kwalik, a leader in the Free Papua Movement, was shot as he tried to escape an early morning police raid on a house in the mountain village of Gorong Gorong in the remote eastern province, police spokesman Maj. Gen. Nanan Sukarna said.
He died hours later in a medical clinic in the nearby mining town of Timika, Sukarna said, adding that Kwalik had been armed with a revolver.
Kwalik had ordered ambushes on the road to the world’s largest gold mine in central Papua, operated by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. of Phoenix, Arizona. The attacks between July 8 and Nov. 2 killed 8 people and wounded 37, Sukarna said.
Police had recently arrested several rebels who led them to the house and told them that they had carried out the ambushes on Kwalik’s orders, he said.
“He is responsible for the shootings,” Sukarna told reporters in Jakarta.
The victims were all Indonesian apart from 29-year-old Australian project manager Drew Grant.
Grant was shot in the neck and chest on July 11 in what police described as a coordinated attack by several gunmen armed with assault rifles.
Some analysts suspect that some of the ambushes were staged by Indonesian police and military forces who compete for millions in illegal profits for protecting the mine.
Kwalik’s killing drew immediate criticism from a Papuan rights campaigner, who said his death will likely spur the long-running independence movement.
Independence activists have been protesting Indonesian rule in the province since a United Nations ballot placed the former Dutch colony under Jakarta’s control in 1969. Police have been accused of brutality against the secessionists.
Activist Theo Hesegem described Kwalik — a former Roman Catholic seminarian — as the most important leader to be killed by Indonesian forces in Papua since independence advocate Theys Eluay was strangled by soldiers in 2004.
“He was a freedom fighter and a respected leader in Papuan society,” Hesegem said. “Killing our leader like this shows that the Indonesians do not respect us.”
Hesegem said Kwalik had wanted the Freeport mine closed because local people did not benefit from it.
He said Kwalik had openly waged a guerrilla war against the Indonesian military but never claimed responsibility for the armed attacks on the mine.
Police spokesman Sukarna also said Kwalik had ordered a 2002 attack on a vehicle convoy headed toward the Freeport mine that killed three teachers — two American and an Indonesian.
Another eight Americans were seriously wounded in the ambush that also strained ties between Washington and Jakarta.
Seven Papuans were convicted over that attack and were given sentences of up to life in prison.
Kwalik grabbed international attention in 1996 when his rebels took 17 Indonesians and seven European biologists hostage. Two of the Indonesians were killed but the rest were eventually released.