Down to Earth No. 55, November 2002

Dayaks take court action against Australian mining company

Australia's Aurora Gold has closed its notorious Kalimantan gold mine, but indigenous Dayaks want compensation for the negative impacts they have suffered.

On July 30th 2002, indigenous Siang, Murung and Bakumpai Dayak communities from Central Kalimantan filed a lawsuit at the South Jakarta state court, against PT Indo Muro Kencana (IMK), the gold mining company owned by Australia's Aurora Gold. The 29 plaintiffs, who are being represented by lawyers engaged by the Indonesian NGOs WALHI and JATAM, are traditional miners whose mining locations were taken over by IMK.

In 1999, after years of unsuccessful attempts to seek redress, the communities staged a peaceful re-occupation of the mining sites. In response, Brimob special forces police were brought in to evict them. The police fired at local people who entered the mining site - fatally wounding two men on one occasion - and burned houses and possessions belonging to local villagers (see DTE 52 for more background).

The Dayaks are suing for damage to their mining property amounting to Rp 364,213,500 (around US$40,000) and a total loss of gold amounting to 380,023 grammes. Non-financial losses suffered by the community include the loss of their rights to work and to live in an environment free from fear. The trial opened on September 19th.

In Sydney, meanwhile, the Mineral Policy Institute (MPI) has called for an enquiry into why Australian embassy staff in Indonesia took no action after three separate shooting incidents at the mine. At the same time, the staff were pressing Indonesian security officials to deal with what Aurora calls "illegal" miners.

Mine closed

Production at IMK ceased in June this year, with the last shipment of gold leaving in July. Nevertheless, Aurora Gold, which took over IMK in 1997, is now in the process of selling its stake in the mine to another Australian company, Archipelago Resources. Aurora's other interest in Indonesia, the Toka Tindung concession in Sulawesi, was bought earlier this year by the same company.

A May 2002 agreement arranged for the sale of IMK to Archipelago, with certain conditions: Aurora is responsible for the reclamation of the existing mining areas and the paying of all employee entitlements until the date of the sale completion.

Aurora estimated mine closure costs for the first half of the year at US$8 million - covering reclamation, mineworkers and mine closure management costs.

It remains to be seen whether Aurora will be held to account for the violence and human rights abuses suffered by indigenous people, during its time as mine operator.

(JATAM Waiting for Final Justice, case summary received 30/Jul/02; JATAM email 27/Sep/02; MPI 30/Jul/02; Berita Indonesia 11/Sep/02)

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