Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Forestry head declared illegal logging suspect

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura

The head of the Papua forestry office, Marthen Kayoi, has been declared a suspect of illegal logging following a high-profile report on the smuggling of 300,000 cubic meters of timber per month from Indonesia -- mostly Papua province -- to China.

According to the suspect's lawyers, Budi Setyanto and Bernard Akasian, their client has been charged with violating several articles on forestry under the Criminal Code.

"My client was asked 30-odd questions, and declared a suspect during interrogation," Budi said. Marthen was questioned by the police on Monday.

The high-profile report, titled The Last Frontier, revealed the most flagrant case of timber smuggling ever discovered, valued at more than US$1 billion.

The report, which was made public late February by the London- based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesian environmental group Telapak, disclosed that Papua had become the main illegal logging hub in the country, identifying Sorong, Manokwari, Fak Fak, Nabire and Serui regencies as the main illegal logging centers.

The report alleged that the operation was supported and managed by high-ranking Indonesian Military officers working in cahoots with government officials and law enforcers.

Soon after the disclosure, the President instructed that an "integrated crackdown" be launched against all suspected parties.

Marthen's lawyer, Budi, claimed that his client had been named a suspect merely because he allowed permits to be issued for collecting logs on tribal ground.

He said that on Aug. 22, 2002, the head of the Papuan forestry office issued regulation No. KEP-522.1/1648 on guidelines for permits to collect logs on tribal ground.

The rule was allegedly based on gubernatorial circular No. 522.2/3386/SE dated Aug. 22, 2002 on guidelines for tribal communities to collect forest products. The governor issued the circular in accordance with articles 37 and 76 of Law 41/1999 on forestry which regulates the use and management of forests by tribal communities.

"The police deemed the regulation (issued by Marthen) illegal, which led to him being named a suspect. In fact, our client issued the rule based on the governor's circular, which was made based on the law," Budi said.

"Because our client has been named a suspect, those who issue similar regulations should also be named suspects."

He claimed the regulation was intended to improve local people's welfare.

"It's true the province is rich with natural resources, but the people are still poor. That's why there's a need for a policy to improve people's welfare by involving them in managing forest products," Budi said.

Leader of the Papua tribal council, Thom Beanal, said he would ask President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono what was the status of Papuan tribal communities in managing forests.

Papuans, he said, have the right to manage their land and forests, meaning all investments in Papuan forests should have tribal council permission.