MAC: Mines and Communities

Indonesia/west Papua Update

Published by MAC on 2006-05-17
Source: Mines and Communities

Indonesia/West Papua Update

17th May 2006

When will the Grasberg mine be closed down? That must surely be the key question, following the recent comprehensive environmental indictment of the operation by WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).

Now an Indonesian parliamentary investigation has confirmed the organisation's key allegations. Just published, too, are highly alarming satellite photographs showing the extent to which the floodplain, river system, and forests in the mine's concession area, have been damaged between the years 1988 and 2003. Since then, of course, the mine has been expanded and the tailings burden increased. (See:

Recognising that Grasberg has become a major challenge to the corporate credibility of Freeport (now under fire for grotesque handouts to its chair and CEO), the London Financial Times alludes in passing to Freeport's joint venture partner Rio Tinto. Regrettably, the key role of the British company in bankrolling Grasberg's expansion - which led directly to the current socio-environmental disaster - has barely been acknowledged recognised by the UK media.

Following the ongoing Newmont case in Sulawesi, another suit against an allegedly damaging foreign mining company is being mounted in the Moluccas. This time, the alleged culprit is Australian-based Newcrest, whose new CEO will soon be Ian Smith from Rio Tinto. Visitors to this website may remember it was Rio Tinto that tried, unsuccessfully, to sell its Citra Palu operations in Sulawesi to Newcrest,when the UK company was violating forestry protection legislation. (see:

Another UK mining company is now trespassing on a unique habitat in northern Sulawesi. The managing director of AIM-listed Archipelago Resources defends his company's plans as meeting "local regulatory practices", and says the mine will deposit its tailings " the form of finely ground rock, which will be deposited in a submarine trench on the other side of Sulawesi, between 1,000 and 2,000 metres deep, where they will sink."

In fact, according to the mining advocacy group JATAM, this project is proceeding without legal environmental clearance. A former Indonesian environmental minister has already condemned the practice of submarine tailings disposal (STD). Supposition that the wastes are inert, remaining below the co-called "euphotic zone" without rising near the surface is defied, both by all previous experience of the practice, and the oceanography of the region. At this very moment, Alfred Russel Wallace, the Englishman whose identification of northern Sulawesi's unique fauna and flora, one and a half centuries ago contributed directly to CharlesDarwin's theory of the "origin of species", may well be rocking in his grave.

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