Witnesses say Indonesian police shot dead two protesters at point blank range as they fled a fusillade of bullets as authorities broke up a blockade against gold exploration activities undertaken by an Australian-owned mining company.
Sydney-based Arc Exploration announced yesterday it had stopped its exploration work at the concession on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa amid an investigation by the country's human rights watchdog to ascertain, among other things, whether the company had paid the police.
A spokesman for the company said no payments or other benefits had been given to police ''to my knowledge'' and that Arc Exploration held all the permits necessary for its work.
According to a detailed account of the incident by the Indonesian environmentalist group Walhi, about 700 police attacked 350 protesters ''without any prior warning shots'' at Sape port near Bima on Christmas Eve.
''The civilians then ran [and] scattered without fighting. The running civilians were still being shot at,'' according to Walhi's account, which it said was based on witness testimony.
Arief Rahman, a local farmer was killed. So, too, was his cousin Saeful, who was carrying the wounded Mr Arief when he was felled. Wahli and its campaign manager, Teguh Surya, said the grievances of locals came because ''it is well known gold mining will leave behind a toxic lake, a big hole in the ground and the land will then be unusable,'' he said.
In addition, Mr Teguh said, a spring used by nearby farmers would be contaminated once the actual mining began. ''The farmers would prefer that the land remained productive for their future,'' he said.
The Australian Greens have called on the Federal Government to investigate the activities of Arc.
Greens acting leader Christine Milne said there were ''legitimate questions'' for the company to answer.
Senator Milne drew links between Arc and two other companies - Newcrest Mining and Freeport.
The senator said Arc employed John Carlile as managing director because of his experience with Newcrest Mining operating in Indonesia. She said Newcrest admitted in 2004 it had paid Indonesian security forces to manage its site in Indonesia.
She also said an Arc board member was from Freeport, operator of a controversial mine in West Papua that had a similar relationship with the security forces there. with AAP