MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Indonesia says Newmont Mining Case up to Court

Published by MAC on 2004-11-25

Indonesia says Newmont Mining Case up to Court

Planet Ark (Reuters)

November 25, 2004

Jakarta - A controversial pollution case involving the world's largest gold miner, Newmont Mining Corp., should be left to Indonesian courts, the government said on Wednesday.

Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab made the comment after meeting Vice President Jusuf Kalla to discuss a government-commissioned probe that found sediment in Buyat Bay near a mine run by PT Newmont Minahasa Raya had significant levels of arsenic and mercury. "The result of the integrated team has shown pollution which violates regulations," said Shihab.

"It will be determined by the court."

Newmont maintains the North Sulawesi bay, some 2,200 km (1,400 miles) from Jakarta, is not contaminated by it, and has said it followed Indonesian laws.

Indonesian police have named six Newmont executives -- two Americans, one Australian, and three Indonesians -- as suspects, while prosecutors will decide whether to formally charge them.

Five were detained for weeks over the matter and currently their movements are still restricted.

Charges of breaching environmental rules 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.

The report found fish in the bay were contaminated with enough arsenic to make them dangerous for human consumption.

It recommended the health ministry carry out more tests on villagers who have complained of rashes, breathing difficulties and dizziness. The ministry should also consider moving villagers from an area with high risk to human health, it said.

The findings were the latest of several studies on Buyat Bay after some villagers from the area filed a $543 million lawsuit against Newmont, charging waste from the mine had caused serious illnesses and ruined the local fishing industry.

Newmont has said it was vindicated by two earlier studies -- one by the Indonesian government and another by the World Health Organisation -- which concluded Buyat Bay was not polluted.

There have also been some questions raised over whether the latest report properly interpreted the data.

Industry groups have agreed with the US embassy that the handling of the case, especially the detention of the executives, could be a hurdle to foreign investment.

Environmental organisations say Indonesia has been lenient about polluters in the past and the case should be vigorously pursued.

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