MAC: Mines and Communities

Indonesia: The Battle for Bugel's Sand Treasures

Published by MAC on 2011-06-20
Source: Jakarta Globe

For recent story on mineral sands mining in Guatemala, please see: Guatemalan Beaches Threatened by Iron Sands Mining

The Battle for Bugel's Sand Treasures

By Nivell Rayda & Candra Malik 

Jakarta Globe

13 June 2011

Kulonprogo, Yogyakarta - As far as the eye can see, the south coast of Yogyakarta is a sea of yellow as the rice harvest gets under way and the grains are laid out in every available space to dry.

Sumanto, secretary of the Kulonprogo Coastal Farmers Association (PPLP), walking past a sign in Bugel village that reads: ‘Reject the iron sand mine to the last drop of blood. For our grand children's sake.'
Sumanto, secretary of the Kulonprogo Coastal Farmers Association
(PPLP), walking past a sign in Bugel village that reads: ‘Reject the
iron sand mine to the last drop of blood. For our grand children's
sake.' Source: Jakarta Globe Photo/Nivell Rayda

At least four weddings are held along the less-traveled road along Java's southern coast, a sure sign of a good harvest because people are in the mood to celebrate.

But jubilation is far from present in Bugel, a village in Kulonprogo district.

"Are you meeting someone in Bugel? Is someone expecting you?" Sukirno, a food vendor from the neighboring village of Glagah, says as he nervously shows the way. "If you come without prior notice, it can be quite dangerous."

Since 2006, residents of Bugel have been battling a mining company that is extracting a vast concentration of iron found in the beaches of Kulonprogo.

The protracted dispute has resulted in numerous clashes between local residents and district officials and some villagers who support the mine.

It is impossible to tell whether he is a supporter or an opponent of the mining company, but Sukirno says it is best to remain neutral if anyone should ask.

Unsubstantiated rumors have been circulating around of a recent incident in which a passerby provided the wrong information to a group of men and found himself threatened with machetes and sickles.

Visitors to Bugel are welcomed with menacing signs lining the street.

"Mining company employees must not pass this road or risk being killed," one picket sign says.

"Mining company trucks are not welcome. Pass this road if you dare and we will burn you," says another.

Once in a while, speeding pickup trucks pass through the village and run the gauntlet of angry locals hurling abuse at them.

It is clear that tensions are high in Bugel and strangers are scrutinized, with villagers on the lookout for mine workers and plainclothes police officers.

Anxiety has never been higher for the locals. One of their own, a community leader named Tukijo, 45, was recently arrested.

"Tukijo is a smart man; we always consult him on every affair," Sumanto, secretary of the Kulonprogo Coastal Farmers Association (PPLP), tells the Jakarta Globe.

"When district officials came to us with a plan to extract iron sand, he was the first one who suspected that there was something fishy behind the government's promise of increased welfare."

For Tukijo, Sumanto adds, the mining activities spelled disaster for the area's delicate ecosystem and the livelihood of its people, who for generations have been cultivating the sand and producing high-quality crops.

Winners and Losers

An iron concentration of between 40 percent and 80 percent along Kulonprogo's beaches makes it the second-largest iron reserve in the world after Mexico.

The mining concession for the area was awarded to a joint venture between Australia's Indo Mines and Jogja Magasa Mining, a local company.

In 2008, the central government brokered the deal for the concession, which will supply 600,000 tons of iron to state-owned Krakatau Steel in its first year of operation. Mining started this year.

"There is huge money to be made," Kulonprogo's secretary, Budi Wibowo, tells the Globe. "Apart from iron sand, the land also contains titanium, vanadium, coal, gold, manganese and lime, which will be available after the iron sand is extracted.

"There is 100 years' worth of precious mineral reserves in Kulonprogo," he adds.

Budi says the central government will enjoy Rp 300 billion ($35 million) a year in royalties, while another Rp 200 billion will go to the local government.

"That's roughly Rp 3.8 billion per week, not including the lease of land as well as employment opportunities and community development programs from the mining companies," he says.

For the Kulonprogo administration, the project will see a sharp rise in its revenues, which currently stand at just Rp 600 billion a year.

And the Yogyakarta sultanate - one the last remaining monarchies in the country - will also enjoy large chunks of the profits.

Sultan Hamengkubuwono X's younger brother, Prince Joyokusumo, and eldest daughter, Princess Pembayun, are commissioners at JMM, which has a 30 percent stake in the project.

Another JMM commissioner is Prince Harioseno, son of Paku Alam IX, head of the Paku Alam principality in Yogyakarta.

Because of the province's special autonomy status, the sultan is automatically appointed its governor and Paku Alam IX its deputy governor.

The sultan has confirmed that, as an institution, the sultanate is involved in the Kulonprogo project, but insists that he is not personally connected.

Meanwhile, local residents remain skeptical that they will see even a fraction of the wealth generated by the mining. Given the country's poor corruption record, they suspect the concession will only profit the elites and greedy officials.

"It is almost harvest time for our chilies," says Isianta, a farmer in the area who has lost land to the project.

"Kulonprogo farmers could have produced up to six tons of chilies a day and enjoyed up to Rp 10 million in profits per farmer from one crop alone.

"The watermelons were due to ripen next month and the month after, dragon fruit would have been ready for picking. The government should've considered our contribution to the local economy.

"We used to be impoverished until we learned how to cultivate the rich sands on the beaches. Even Japanese scientists came here to learn how we do it."

Growing Violence

With so much money on the line, the Yogyakarta administration is unlikely to give in to the farmers.

Consent forms for the mining to go ahead, an essential part of the Environmental Impact Analysis (Amdal) needed to secure a permit, have been distributed, but reportedly to the wrong part of the village.

"Those giving their consent are not affected by the mining plan," says Sumanto, from the farmers' association. "Technically, they live in the same subdistrict as we do, but their houses are nowhere close to shorelines where the iron sand is. Some of them are not even farmers."

According to the PPLP secretary, all of the farmers have the proper land deeds.

But Sukiratnasari, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) in Yogyakarta, says there is conflicting claims as to who owns the land in Kulonprogo.

According to the Agrarian Law, farmers who have been cultivating an area for more than 30 years can file for certificates of ownership. By tradition, however, all of the lands in Yogyakarta belong to the sultanate and the Pakualaman principality.

The dispute heated up in May 2009 after the provincial government unilaterally announced the area belonged to Pakualaman.

Tukijo, the local community leader, confronted the head of his subdistrict and questioned the move, which he saw as an illegal appropriation of farmers' lands.

But his objections led to his arrest on charges of defamation, an allegation filed by the mining company. In early 2010, he was found guilty and sentenced to six months' probation.

Undeterred by Tukijo's arrest, farming families, including women, children and the elderly, marched to the district office in Wates to protest the mining activities in October 2009.

Police reportedly sprayed the protesters with a water cannon and also allegedly sprayed them with rubber bullets and beat them with batons.

After that incident, unidentified men began ransacking and setting fire to the PPLP's offices. And the harassment continued, with the latest incident occurring as recently as March.

But police inaction over the cases exhausted the farmers' patience and, in April, they began demanding the mine's closure.

Mine workers found themselves trapped on the one-hectare facility, unable to leave for fear of the villagers until they were forced to sign a letter vowing never to return to Bugel.

But return they did. This time, with a police escort. Tukijo, who was working his land, was arrested again, reportedly without any investigation or evidence.

"My husband is always targeted because he is the leader of this community, not because he is a troublemaker," Tukijo's wife, Suritinem, tells the Globe.

"Tukijo never believed in violence, and he even helped to quell the villagers' rage against the mine workers.

"He was the one who dared to speak up. He was the one who knew from the beginning that the government's promises were nothing more than lies.

"He paid the price for his idealism; every month we received death threats. Whenever there's trouble, my husband is always arrested."

People close to Tukijo have also been subjected to intimidation. His 34-year-old brother, Slamet, and 25-year-old son, Eko, have been charged with vandalizing the miner's property.

"When police first arrested my husband, I was devastated," Suritinem said. "Now, I have accepted the fact that this is the consequence of our resistance and we won't back down.

"My question is, why can't you go to prison for once? You're every bit as involved as my husband, aren't you?" she says jokingly to Sumanto.

The PPLP secretary giggles, hiding his face in embarrassment. "My wife is not as strong as you. She wouldn't last a day without me," he says.

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