Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Govt under fire for mining contracts

Moch. N Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Public outrage is increasing over the government's move to allow mining in conservation forests in Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

Hundreds of people in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, demonstrated at the provincial legislative council on Wednesday, demanding the central government stop mining by state-owned PT Aneka Tambang on Bahabulu island in the province.

The government has changed the status of Bahabulu from a conservation area to an industrial forest, allowing nickel mining on the island. An 1997 environmental law and 1999 forestry law do not allow mining in national parks or protected forests.

"We reject the government's decision allowing mining in the conservation area. The island has long since functioned as a water catchment area to prevent flooding," demonstration coordinator Bambang S. said as quoted by Antara news agency.

Kendari is only one of several cities where protests have taken place against the government's environmental policy allowing mining in conservation forests in Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Sumatra.

The government's approval of mining in conservation areas recently won support from the House of Representatives following much debate.

The debate has really begun following the issuance of Law No. 41/1999 on conservation areas, which annulled several mining contracts awarded by the previous government.

Some 15 of 21 controversial mining projects in conservation areas across the country are expected to be approved next week, despite the public criticism.

A recent report by the World Bank said environmental degradation was a threat to tribal people living in the conservation forests.

Central Sulawesi Governor Aminuddin Ponulele has won much goodwill from people in the province for objecting to mining activities in the Poboya conservation area near the provincial capital of Palu.

While meeting with 200 demonstrators at his office in Palu on Wednesday, the governor said the conservation area had to be protected to ensure the safety of the water supply to the provincial capital.

The Central Sulawesi provincial legislative council supports the administration's objections to mining in the Poboya conservation area.

Also, the South Kalimantan provincial legislative council sent a letter to the House of Representatives and to the ministers of energy and mineral resources, and forestry, rejecting mining in the Meratus protected forest.

Alliance for Meratus Protected Forest coordinator Muhammad Saleh said he would continue to raise support to oppose any mining in the protected forest.

"We have received confirmation from the provincial legislature leadership that a letter has already been delivered to the House leadership in Jakarta," he said.

At least four timber and mining companies -- PT Kodeco, PT Aya Yayang, PT Meratus Sumber Mas and PT Bina Alam Indah Lestari -- have been accused of destroying or degrading thousands of hectares of the forest in their quest for wood or ore.

In Jakarta, hundreds of environmental activists staged a demonstration in front of the Australian Embassy to protest what they said was pressure by the Australian government on the Indonesian government to issue a contract to an Australian mining firm for a protected forest.

The director of the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Kehati), Ismid Hadad, criticized the government for disregarding environmental problems.

"Even worse, the government is considering issuing mining contracts to 22 companies for several conservation areas across the country," he said.