Police confirmed on Thursday that four people were killed in Maluku after hundreds clashed over an illegal gold mining operation there.
The incident occurred at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday on Mount Botak on Buru Island, 150 kilometers west of Ambon, National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Agus Rianto said in Jakarta.
“A group of people attacked another group with machetes and spears,” the spokesman said.
The incident involved illegal gold miners from the local Ambalo and Buru communities who stormed a site controlled by migrants from other provinces.
One of the men who died in the clash was from Tasikmalaya, West Java, and another was from Manado, North Sulawesi, Agus said. The police had not previously ascertained their identities.
Una Farida Umasugy, a member of the Maluku Regional Legislative Council, said outbreaks of violence were rife at the illegal mining site, with authorities doing little to prevent them.
“The district government should take firm action and empty the premises of local or migrant [miners] because this is what the district government is authorized to do,” the legislator told state news agency Antara.
The last violent incident at the site took place two months ago, when one miner died, Agus said. The police suspected the most recent clash was a continuation of the earlier one.
“There are often overlapping claims over mining sites between groups we assume are illegal miners,” he said.
Agus said the Buru district police had deployed two platoons of 60 to 80 officers to secure the area and had also requested assistance from the local military.
But security officials will have to make it through rugged terrain and tough roads just to get to the site, he added.
With gold prices climbing to record highs — around Rp 570,000 ($60) per gram — many Indonesians have tried their luck at illegal gold mining, which often entails their encroaching on heavily guarded mining sites belonging to big companies.
On Saturday, a group of illegal miners in Mandailing Natal, North Sumatra attacked police officers with rocks, knives and slingshots as the officers moved in to arrest them.
Police, who accused them of encroaching on site owned by a government company, responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. Six of the 11 miners arrested were later charged with attack and obstruction of justice.