quot;Reject Rio Tinto" - Indonesian community's pro-forests message for Earth Day and Rio TintPublished by MAC on 2003-04-17
"Reject Rio Tinto" - Indonesian community's pro-forests message for Earth Day and Rio Tinto AGM
MPI/WALHI/JATAM, 17 April 2003
Unfurling a spectacular 20m x 20m banner "Reject Rio Tinto" illuminated by 200 bamboo torches, the community of Poboya have rejected Australian mining company plans to turn a protected forest park into an open-cut gold mine. The Sulawesi island community of Poboya in Indonesia, made the protest against Rio Tinto and Newcrest's planned mine in time to mark Earth day and to send a clear message to the Rio Tinto Board and shareholders ahead of their Annual General Meeting in London today (17th April 2003).
Rio Tinto, the world's biggest mining company, will come under attack at its annual general meeting today for human rights abuses and environmental destruction linked to its operations in Indonesia. The allegations are outlined in a new report from Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), "Undermining Indonesia", launched today, which investigates the impacts of four of Rio Tinto's most controversial mining operations. The report is available for download at http://www.walhi.or.id/English/reports/riotinto2003.pdf
Amongst other charges, Rio Tinto, owner of PT Citra Palu Mineral stands accused of exploring for gold in the protected Poboya Great Forest Park. Rio Tinto have denied the charge, but drill holes bored after the declaration of the park in 1995 and the frank admission of PT Citra Palu's Mineral's geologists is evidence to the contrary.(1) Rio Tinto's 1997 concession covers 500 hectares of the park, while forestry laws dating from 1990 and reiterated in 1999, prohibit mining activity in protected forest areas.
The conflict between forest protection laws and mining leases issued in protected areas, such as Rio Tinto's Poboya lease, has created a political storm in Indonesia. Indonesian Ministers and officials fear international legal action if mining is excluded from protected areas.(2) Media reports have linked Indonesian government fears of costly international arbitration to Australian owned projects such as BHP Billiton's Gag Island Nickel project, Newcrest's PT. Nusa Halmahera Mineral, and Rio Tinto/Newcrest's PT Citra Palu Mineral.(3)
Questions asked in Australia's Parliament have revealed strenuous lobbying efforts by the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on behalf of Australian companies wishing to have the ban on mining in protected forests overturned. Australia's mining watchdog is critical of the Australian Government: "Indonesia is rushing to do what it can to stem massive forest destruction while the Australian Government is applying shameful pressure tactics on behalf of Australian mining industry giants." said Igor O'Neill, spokesperson from the Mineral Policy Institute.
Indonesian environment and human rights NGOs have formed a coalition to oppose mining in protected areas, with as many as 150 leases threatening forest areas including nature reserves and national parks. High on the list is Rio Tinto and Freeport McMoran's mining lease in the World Heritage-listed Lorentz National Park in West Papua.
After spending the night camping out in the Poboya area, holding discussions and drafting a petition and statement of opposition, a group of 500 local residents, community groups and students marched to the provincial government headquarters and delivered their message and petition to the Governor. "If the Governor allows PT Citra Palu Mineral's mining plans, we're ready for war," declared Poboya area resident Zamruddin. "We'll put a boycott on the use of the spring in our village which for so long has been a water source for the City of Palu."
Rio Tinto has entered into an agreement with Newcrest to onsell the project if it gains government approval to proceed. The sale however is presumed to be in limbo after a recent Indonesian Department of Forestry press release confirming that mining was incompatible with the Poboya Forest Park's conservation status. (4) While coalition members including the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), and WWF Indonesia are pleased with their government's response, they fear that on-going pressure from international mining companies and foreign governments will soon force their government to allow mining in protected areas. "I urge Rio Tinto shareholders to heed our message, and join our opposition to making a few more dollars out of destroying Indonesia's environment. Foreign governments and foreign companies must respect Indonesia's communities, our forests and our laws designed to protect them", concluded Siti Maimunah, JATAM spokesperson.
Siti Maimunah, JATAM: +62 (0)816 474 3379
Nur Hidayati, WALHI: +62 (0)812 997 2642
Igor O'Neill, Mineral Policy Institute: +62 (0) 81 286 12 286
Mineral Policy Institute: +61 2 9557 9019
(1) Interview with Mr. Muhardjo exploration geologist, Rio Tinto Palu Project, 28 March 2001.
(2) "Nabiel Makarim Agrees with Mining in Protected Forests", Koran Tempo, 14 June 2002 [translation].
(3) "Protected areas international arbitration threat to Indonesia", Koran Tempo, 3 April 2002 [translation].
(4) "Indonesia bans Palu Mineral mine operation - minister", Reuters, April 7, 2003; Forestry Department Press Release, 4 February 2003