MAC: Mines and Communities

UCAN: Catholic priests reject gold-mine project, decry its environmental impact

Published by MAC on 2007-06-07

UCAN: Catholic priests reject gold-mine project, decry its environmental impact

7th June 2007


MAUMERE, Indonesia (UCAN) – Twenty-two Catholic priests have distributed a statement declaring their opposition to a gold-mining agreement signed by the district government where they serve on predominantly Catholic Flores Island.

The 19 members of the Larantuka diocesan clergy and 3 Divine Word priests signed the statement on May 10 in Lewoleba, capital of Lembata district in eastern Flores, 1,810 kilometers (about 1,120 miles) east of Jakarta. Lembata deanery, an administrative grouping of parishes in the district, has 29 priests in all.

They sent the signed statement to district head Andreas Duli Manuk and copies to national Energy and Natural Resources Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet Alexander Tallo and Bishop Fransiskus Kopong Kung of Larantuka. Another 12 copies went to diocesan commissions and local governmental officials. Flores is part of East Nusa Tenggara.

"Today, May 10, 2007, we, Catholic priests in Lembata deanery, are taking a stand against the gold mine operation plan," the statement declared. It cited a working contract between the Lembata government and P.T. Merukh Enterprise Cooper (MEC) to explore for and mine gold.

The district government announced March 7 that gold mining operations would focus on the three subdistricts of Buyasuri, Lebantukan and Omesuri.

The priests said they took a collective stand after "hearing about the advantages and disadvantages of the gold mine operation from an nongovernmental organization (NGO) named Lembata Center on Jan. 10, 2007, and the anxiety of parish priests serving in the areas where gold mining would be conducted."

The statement also cited reports of local people demonstrating against the mining plan.

Media first reported in February that local people opposed the plan because the 46,000 hectares covered by the mining agreement includes five villages with a combined population of more than 10,000 people.

The priests expressed their regret that the government did not talk to people about the plan before making a decision that affects their lives.

"We are siding with these small people who may lose their land, livelihood, houses and 'a certainty of life,'" the priests wrote.

"We will disseminate our stand simultaneously in our parishes," they said, adding that they would survey the mining locations.

They recommended that the district government concentrate on the potential of farming, tourism, and marine and home industries for economic development.

Divine Word Father Marcelinus Vande Raring, a signatory, told UCA News on May 13 that the gold mining would destroy the local environment. "It will also affect the lives of people living around the area," he asserted.

Other people from the district, including a couple now working in the provincial capital of Kupang, also told UCA News why they reject the plan.

Yohanes Stefanus Kotan, a Catholic, suggested that the district government should take local people's complaint into consideration, "because every policy it takes without considering local people's demands is a repressive policy."

According to the law lecturer at Nusa Cendana University in Kupang, the district government should have involved all social sectors since the beginning of the plan.

"The district government took a wrong step. It did not involve local people," agreed Urbanus Ola Hurek, who teaches on the social and political sciences faculty of Catholic University of Widya Mandira, also in Kupang.

He cautioned that this issue might become "a time bomb" that could endanger puts the relations between the district government and local people "if it is not mediated wisely and rightly."

Thomas Ola Langoday, another native, said: "The gold mine operation plan should be for the welfare of local people, but the district government seems to have a different idea. If the district government only thinks about business, then local people will suffer more."

Andreas Nula Liliweri, the deputy district head for Lembata, told UCA News on May 25 that those who reject the gold mining plan do not understand the economic situation in the district. "Local people are living in the circle of poverty," he said.

"The district government will not let its people suffer," he asserted. According to him, more than 10,000 would be relocated from the five affected villages to nearby areas.

MEC has begun its exploratory mining activities in Lembata after receiving the license for this from the district government.


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