Aceh's forests

Down to Earth No 68  February 2006

Aceh's forests are being stripped in the name of post-tsunami reconstruction. In reality, the timber becomes part of lucrative international timber smuggling.

The products of illegal logging from South-east Aceh are transported to Sibolga on the west coast of North Sumatra, and from South Aceh to ports near Medan in North Sumatra. From there, they are exported to Malaysia and further afield. A moratorium on logging concession activities was imposed in 2001 but, during the following four years, the local forestry department issued 24 IPK/IPHHK licences - with all the usual problems (see separate article below for IPK cases in Mentawai).

The forestry authorities in Jakarta have, by a back door route, sanctioned the resumption of large-scale logging in Aceh. The Directorate General of Forest Production increased the annual quota of legal timber from 50,000 cubic metres to 500,000 cubic metres. The forestry minister then wrote to the governor suggesting that large-scale logging companies, covering 524,644ha of forests in Aceh, should be allowed to resume their destructive activities. The governor complained that he was not consulted and only received the minister's 18th October letter in late November.

The companies include PT Krueng Sakti (115,000ha), PT Alas Aceh Perkasa (56,000ha), PT Trijasa Mas Karya Inti (41,000ha), PT Raja Garuda Mas Lestari (96,500ha), PT Koperasi Ponpes Najmussalam (30,000ha), PT Aceh Inti Timber (80,804ha), PT Wiralanao (60,440ha) and PT Lamuri Timber (44,400ha). Jakarta's argument is that the province is now much safer since the MoU between GAM and the army was signed and that timber is needed for reconstruction.

Memories are short - the biggest natural disaster to strike northern Sumatra before December 26th 2004 was the Bukit Lawang tragedy in 2003. Some 200 people lost their lives after a wall of mud and water poured down a hillside and wiped out the village below.

Renewed legal forest destruction in Aceh also conflicts with President Yudhoyono's statements about the need to 'revitalise' Indonesia's forests. Ten people lost their lives and hundreds were made homeless in floods in Kutacane in late 2005.

Forest campaigners speak out
Indonesian activists have called for the government to change its mind and protect Aceh's forests.

One of these is the forest and indigenous campaigner, Bestari Raden, released from prison in the amnesty which accompanied Aceh's August peace agreement. In a letter to the forestry minister, Bestari Raden urges Kaban to stop the logging and to set up a multi-stakeholder team to investigate the condition of Aceh's forests, before more natural disasters in the form of landslides and floods affect the province. He finishes: "We hope that all parties throughout Indonesia will approve and support these measures in order to conserve Indonesia's forests where 59 million ha of a total 120 million ha of forests have suffered degradation, as the minister himself said in a recent speech."

According to WALHI Aceh campaigner, Dewa Gumai, the logging concessions will soon be stripped due to the increase in permitted annual cut. Satellite data shows that there is 3,265,000ha of forest in Aceh. Of this 1.8 million ha is zoned protection forest; 825ha protected forest; and only 640ha production forest. Dewa suggests that the government could use timber confiscated from raids on illegal loggers or encourage the use of materials other than wood in the reconstruction programme. Head of the BRR, Kuntoro has said publicly that timber from Aceh should not be used to meet reconstruction needs as local forests were in a 'critical condition'.

Environmental activists researching illegal logging in South-east Aceh have received death threats. Members of Walhi Aceh were phoned and visited in November, after a documentary they made on forest destruction around Kutacane and the Gunung Leuser National Park was shown on TV. Between 10 and 30 cubic metres of timber a day may be leaving the district illegally. WALHI Aceh's evidence points to the involvement of senior figures in the district assembly and local police. The son of South-east Aceh's administrator was arrested on a charge of illegal logging in late November.

(Sources: Bisnis Indonesia 23/Nov/05; Serambi 1/Dec/05; Bestari Raden letter to Kaban 25/Nov/05; Rakyat Aceh 3/Dec/05; Suara Pembaruan 6/Dec/05; Jakarta Post 7/Dec/05; Antara10/Feb/06)