“I demand my rights from PT KEM..Until now I haven’t been paid for my ancestral land totalling 6.5 hectares. PT KEM lied. I was personally evicted from my land at Gunung Runcing by people from PT KEM, forcefully. My houses were demolished without proper compensation – no payment.”

“Before the Kelian river was clear, bathing was fine. Now you can’t find a place to bathe because the water is dirty. There is lots of rubbish and it smells bad. There is problem with the fish, there are none left alive.”

(indigenous Dayak residents of Kelian Dalam, East Kalimantan)

These are the words of indigenous people from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo whose lives have been devastated by the gold mining operations of the British mining company Rio Tinto. This week a Dayak representative, Pak Pius Nyompe is in London to demand his rights at the Rio Tinto Annual General Meeting and to speak at the alternative AGM afterwards. He has personally suffered at the hands of PT Kelian Equatorial Mining, the Rio Tinto subsidiary which is mining gold on traditionally held lands in the rainforested interior of the island.

The Kelian mine is South-East Asia's second largest gold mine. It is jointly owned by the world’s biggest mining company, Rio Tinto (90%) and the Indonesian company PT Harita Jayaraya (10%). The open pit operation produces around 400,000 ounces of gold through a cyanide leaching process.

The company has a 30 year concession from 1992, but is likely to stop production within the next decade leaving a poisoned wasteland. Although the company initially claimed the mine would only cover 700 hectares, 1,200 ha of forest have already been cleared. The company has admitted that it cannot rehabilitate three-quarters of this land because the soil is too contaminated with heavy metals leached by the high acidity caused by the mining operations. PT KEM have agreed to replant degraded forest, but in an area several hundred kilometres away which has nothing to do with the mine.

Although Rio Tinto claim that their environmental monitoring shows no impact on aquatic life, villagers complain that the water is now dirty and there are far fewer fish. Evidence from Rio Tinto's 1996 Health, Safety and Environment Report supports their claims. Levels of suspended solids in the water discharged from the Kelian mine had increased from 1,600 tonnes in 1995 to 4,700 tonnes by 1996 and concentrations of manganese ions averaged three times above the compliance levels. Water from the PT KEM site put 1,081kg of cyanide into the R. Kelian in 1996 – the highest level anywhere in the world from a Rio Tinto gold mine. Company officials explain that this is not all free cyanide, but these figures raise concern for the health of the many communities living along the river.

Local people are angry about the hardships caused by the seizure of the land and the effects of dust and pollution. Some 400 families have been displaced since 1990. The police mobile brigade and army have been used to enforce evictions and suppress compensation disputes. When 600 local people held a protest outside the mine in 1992, 11 community leaders were taken into police custody by helicopter and one died. Last September, villagers at Linggang Bigung blockaded the road which links the mine to the river port at Jelemuk to protest about the choking dust churned up day and night by company trucks. PT KEM says it cannot afford to surface the road.

Only now are Rio Tinto representatives in Indonesia beginning to discuss the demands of the local community, after years of ignoring their complaints and hiding behind the skirts of the Indonesian government. Local people are demanding:

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