MAC: Mines and Communities

More speak out for forest protection from mining in Indonesia

Published by MAC on 2003-07-13

Indonesia regional govts, civil society: More speak out for forest protection from mining

Media release, Coalition to oppose mining in Indonesia's protected areas

Jakarta, 13 July 2003

The last fortnight has seen a whirlwind of protests from provincial governments, indigenous peoples, environmentalists and academics opposed to a foreign-dominated mining industry and Indonesian cabinet push to expose protected forests to open cut mining. Officially, a decision now rests with the Indonesian House of Representatives to maintain the integrity of protected areas enshrined in the Forestry Law no. 41 of 1999, or else overturn the ban on open-cut mining in protected areas, in accordance with lobbying from mining companies and their sponsoring national embassies.

In accordance with the breadth of the threatened areas, opposition to mining in protected areas has been recorded in the past week from public and officials throughout the nation including Bandar Lampung and Riau (Sumatra), Banjarmasin, Pontianak, Samarinda, and Palangkaraya (Kalimantan), Surabaya, Mojokerto and Semarang (Java), Sumbawa Besar (south-east Indonesia), Makassar, Kendari and Palu (Sulawesi). Below are three examples to demonstrate the depth of the opposition movement.

*Please note that INCO's concession area overlaps with 219,330 hectares of protected forest area in Indonesia. There are 2 other Canadian mining companies besides INCO on the list of 15 fast-tracked projects seeking access to protected forests -Weda Bay Nickel and Placer Dome.

Placer rejected in Borneo

Kalimantan (Borneo) forests are world famous as the home of one of humanity's closest relatives, the orangutan, whose name literally means "people of the forest". Sadly, the forests on which orangutans and Borneo's indigenous Dayak peoples rely are being rapidly destroyed by illegal logging, plantations and mining, with 44% of its forests degraded in just 12 years. That's why the lobbying by Canadian mining company Placer to mine for gold in the protected forests of South Kalimantan's Meratus Mountains has caused dismay and outrage.

Indigenous Dayak Meratus and Dayak Samihim representatives issued a passionately worded letter of protest, signed on 25th June 2003 in which they set out compelling reasons for rejecting the Canadian mining giant's plans to exploit their land. Placer's lobbying also sparked a demonstration in the South Kalimantan provincial capital on the 1st of July, demanding government action to reject Placer's lobbying. This led to a declaration of the Provincial Government's opposition to the plans of Placer's Indonesian mining company, PT Meratus Sumber Mas. The Provincial Government also called on the Indonesian national parliament not to permit mining in the Meratus protected forest.

Rio Tinto / Newcrest asked to leave Sulawesi

Elsewhere in the archipelago, in Palu, capital of central Sulawesi island, a parallel story is unfolding of indigenous opposition bolstered by community and provincial government protests against Rio Tinto's and Newcrest's lobbying to build a gold mine in the Poboya Protected Forest Park. Sustained Palu community opposition including protests directly against Rio Tinto has yielded separate statements by both the provincial House of Representatives (2 July 2003) and by Prof Aminuddin Ponulele, Governor of Central Sulawesi that they will refuse any central government attempts to permit the mine to go ahead. "I'm not opposed to mining per se, but I do oppose mining which impoverishes the community. Why mine if the community has to pay for the impacts?" asked Governor Aminuddin. The threat posed by heavy metals, dust and other mine wastes to the Poboya Protected Forest Park and the water supply for 200,000 residents of Palu is too great a risk according to Governor Aminuddin, who was quoted by local paper Radar Palu on 3 July 2003 requesting Rio Tinto / Newcrest's joint venture company PT Citra Palu Minerals to leave Central Sulawesi province.

UNESCO's rebuff to BHP Billiton

The threat to protected areas is sufficiently acute to have prompted a rare official intervention from the usually apolitical UNESCO Asia Pacific office in Jakarta (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). UNESCO's letter appeals to Indonesian parliamentary committees currently considering government plans to mine in protected areas, with specific reference to tiny Gag island in West Papua where BHP Billiton plans to build the biggest nickel mine in the world and dump mine waste into the sea.

The letter explains that an IUCN / UNESCO International Workshop in Hanoi in February 2002 chose the Raja Ampat archipelago including Gag Island as one of seven sites to consider for World Heritage listing from a field of 25 potential sites in Southeast Asia. The extraordinary biodiversity findings in the Raja Ampat / Gag area listed 505 species of coral, which is an extraordinary 64% of all known coral species in the world. In addition, scientific findings also listed 1,065 fish species - amongst the highest fish diversity in the world. UNESCO's intervention is a blow to BHP Billiton's lobbying to overturn protected forest status and the company's plan to use STD - Submarine (ocean) Tailings (waste) Disposal, despite it's claims to have reformed after the PNG Ok Tedi disaster. BHP's Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea caused severe, long-lasting pollution of the Fly River, and local communities successfully sued BHP for multi-millions of dollars in damages.

International Civil Society, academics speak out for forests Turning the tables on hypocritical foreign government pressure asking the Indonesian government to weaken protected areas, over 1,100 letters have arrived from individuals and organisations in 43 countries in support of forest protection. Apart from groups of renown such as the Sierra Club and the Orangutan Foundation, other letters addressed to Indonesian President Megawati include testimonials such as this from Beth Partin, who heard of US mining company Newmont's push to expand into Indonesia's protected forests: "I live near Denver, Colorado where Newmont is based. In Colorado, we live every day with the damage caused by mining, for example, the Alamosa River was poisoned more than a decade ago by a cyanide leak and after years of cleanup is only beginning to show signs of life."

To date around 6,000 sets of three postcards addressed to each of the House of Representatives, the Forestry Department and the Minister for Mineral Energy and Resources have been signed and sent by ordinary Indonesians as an expression of support for existing environment protections against mining. Student environmentalists have staged protests at the Australian Embassy in anger at Australian and other foreign government lobbying on behalf of mining companies. Protests have also been held at the House of Representatives and the Forestry Department, with more planned.

The student's actions are supported by statements opposing mining issued by groups of academics including a declaration of opposition to mining in protected areas issued on 3 July 2003 by heads of forestry education at five prestigious universities: Bogor Institute of Agriculture, Gajah Mada University, Mulawarman University, Hasanuddin University and Lampung University. Students and academics highlighted the total economic contribution made by sustainable forestry and environment protection, which according to Indonesia's national budget, outweighs that of mining, with much more potential untapped.

Statement by:

Coalition to oppose mining in Indonesia's protected areas: JATAM; WALHI-Friends of the Earth; Indonesian Center for Environment Law; WWF Indonesia; Kehati; PELANGI; Forest Watch Indonesia; MPI; POKJA PSDA; PELA

For further information, please contact:
Nur Hidayati, WALHI-Friends of the Earth Indonesia on (+62) 812 9972 642
Siti Maimunah, JATAM-Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network (+62) 815 8097 943
Igor O'Neill, MPI-Mineral Policy Institute (+62) 812 8612 286

Notes For Editors:

Background and Supporting Documents included in press kit, available from or see

- UNESCO Letter re protected forests and Gag Island
- Letter of opposition from Dayak Indigenous communities (translated) X
- Map of affected areas
- Background info sheet
- Previous Press Releases and Jakarta Post opinion article
- List of 15 companies, project locations and countries of origin
- Evidence of Australian government lobbying
- Photos of several demonstrations available upon request

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