Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Walhi to sue govt over Bahorok flood

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

The government is being sued for allegedly failing to stop the rampant illegal logging that caused a recent flash flood in North Sumatra, in which more than 150 people were killed and another 100 others are still missing.

Indonesian Forum on Environment (Walhi) executive director Longgena Ginting said Wednesday that the lawsuit would be submitted to a court in Jakarta or North Sumatra in the near future.

"The lawsuit will be filed against the forestry minister, the Gunung Leuser National Park office, the Langkat administration and possibly the Leuser Management Unit," he told The Jakarta Post in Medan, North Sumatra.

He said the legal action was expected to prove that the Nov. 2 flood, which devastated a popular resort town in Bahorok subdistrict, Langkat, was caused by deforestation due to illegal logging in the national park.

In this case, the government failed to carry out its task of preventing the destruction of the Leuser ecosystem, he added.

Longgena argued that Presidential Instruction No. 5/2001 requires the government to take charge of protecting national parks, but it failed to do so.

"The most responsible for the Bahorok flood is the forestry minister on behalf of the government," he said after a meeting with executives of Walhi's office in Medan.

The meeting also discussed a plan to mobilize support from families of the flood victims for a class action suit against the government.

Longgena said he and other Walhi executives would visit Bahorok to seek letters of power from the victims to file the class action.

The flood was partly blamed on a controversial road project called Ladia Galaska, whose design covers a section of the protected park.

Walhi said on Monday that it was also pursuing its lawsuit against Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh in relation to the construction of Ladia Galaska, in order to stop the project.

It suggests that the project, which failed an environmental impact assessment, could easily be replaced by a railway, which would not cause as much environmental damage, because illegal loggers could not readily use a train for their activities.

Walhi turned down an offer from the Aceh administration to settle the matter out of court because the latter "is not serious."

"Some 30 percent of the road construction has been completed and it's getting closer to the protected forest," Walhi's lawyer Bambang Antariksa said.

Like Walhi, other organizations also oppose the project as 160 kilometers of the planned 505-kilometer-long road cuts through the national park.

On Oct. 3, Walhi filed lawsuits against the Aceh governor, the Aceh settlement and regional infrastructure agency and the Aceh council for the construction of the road network, which is to link the west and east coasts of northern Sumatra.

North Sumatra forestry office head Prie Supriadi said on Wednesday the government was ready to face Walhi's legal action.

Longgena said that between 1994 and Sept. 2003, Walhi had lodged around 50 deforestation cases against government officials across Indonesia, including a suit filed against the government for failing to prevent a flash flood that killed at least 26 people in Mojokerto regency, East Java in 2002.