MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining staff in Indonesia pollution case leave jail

Published by MAC on 2004-10-23

Mining staff in Indonesia pollution case leave jail

23 October 2004


By Jerry Norton and Karima Anjani

JAKARTA, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Five officials of a unit of U.S.-based gold miner Newmont Mining Corp <NEM.N accused of dumping toxic waste in Indonesia left jail on Saturday after being held since late September.

Newmont Minahasa Raya, a unit of the world's largest gold mining company Denver-headquartered Newmont, is under investigation over accusations its gold mine dumped toxic waste that poisoned local residents.

The case became a diplomatic issue after the officials -- an Australian, an American and three Indonesians -- were detained.

"The status of five detainees will be changed to city detention under the supervision of the North Sulawesi police," Brigadier General Suharto, director of the national police special crime unit, told Reuters on Saturday.

Their movements will be restricted to the areas they live in and they will have to report to police regularly, as prosecutors in North Sulawesi consider whether to charge them.

Suharto said the men would likely be flown from Jakarta to North Sulawesi on Sunday.

"Our colleagues displayed tremendous courage and patience during this detention," said Robert Gallagher, Newmont Mining Corp's vice president for Indonesian operations, a company statement said on Saturday.

The U.S. embassy has said jailing the men for questioning was inappropriate because they and the company were cooperating fully in the investigation. The move could harm Indonesia's investment climate, it said.

Newmont Minahasa Raya has said it followed all government regulations and has strongly denied accusations it dumped toxic waste into Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi, some 2,200 km (1,400 miles) from Jakarta, making villagers in the area sick.

Environmental groups argue otherwise, and a police study found dangerously high levels of pollution in the bay, the basis for the detention of Minahasa site manager U.S. citizen Bill Long, Australian production and maintenance manager Phil Turner and the three Indonesians.

Several government and independent studies found no evidence of serious pollution.

Charges of breaching environmental regulations carry jail terms of up to 15 years in Indonesia if people are proven to have died or become seriously ill as a result of pollution, police say.

Despite having some tough regulations on the books, Indonesia often comes under fire from environmental organisations as being too soft in practice on problems caused by mining and timber operations in the resource-rich country.

Miners complain it is getting harder to do business in Indonesia's outlying regions. Investment in mining has slumped because of vague regulations, competition from illegal mining and environmental rules.

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