Police probe death of leader who opposed gold mine

POLICE are looking into the death of a politician from Sulawesi island who opposed a gold mine project there, after environmental groups and the human rights commission called for an investigation.

Helmud Hontong, 58, deputy regent of the remote Sangihe islands, in North Sulawesi province, was pronounced dead on arrival at Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport in Makassar on June 9.

Canadian mining firm Baru Gold Corporation, which owns 70% of the Indonesian company granted the mining concession on Sangihe, said it strongly denied any suggestion of links to the death or that it had caused any environmental damage.

Police have set up a team to investigate the death, Jules Abraham Abast, a spokesman for the North Sulawesi police, said.

Initial results of an autopsy did not show any indication of poison, police said in a forensic report, adding that the suspected cause of death was chronic illness.

Forensic samples had been sent for further testing, police said.

Ahmad Taufan Damanik, chairman of Indonesia’s human rights commission Komnas HAM, said it had asked police to investigate after receiving complaints from Sangihe island residents.

Helmud had appeared to be in good health before boarding a Lion Air flight on Bali island but complained of dizziness about 20 minutes after takeoff, his aide Harmen Kontu, who was sitting beside him at the time, said.

Helmud “lost consciousness and blood flowed from his mouth and nose” soon afterwards, Kontu said.

Helmud opposed the 42,000ha gold mine concession granted to PT Tambang Mas Sangihe. The central government gave the green light for the mine earlier this year.

PT Tambang Mas Sangihe is 70% owned by Canadian firm Baru Gold Corporation and 30% by combined interests, according to the Baru Gold website.

Baru Gold President and CEO Terry Filbert said in a statement that the company denied unfounded accusations over any link to the death of the politician in the strongest possible terms. — Reuters

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