All-out campaign to stop mining in protected forests

Down to Earth No 58  August 2003

Indonesia is being pushed by powerful mining multinationals to open up protected forests for mining, but the international campaign to prevent yet more forest destruction is gaining momentum.

A final decision on whether or not companies can mine in Indonesia's protected forests - putting at risk some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world - is expected to be issued by Indonesia's parliament soon.

An Indonesian NGO coalition, led by mining advocacy network, JATAM, is campaigning to maintain the ban. They predict that a pro-mining decision will lead to more conflict with local communities whose lands will be taken for mining, cause more pollution of water courses and more fatal floods and landslides as forest cover is lost.

In recent weeks the campaign has gathered support from around 6,000 members of the Indonesian public, over 1,100 individuals or organisations in 43 countries, from indigenous communities and university students and academics.

In June UNESCO wrote to the speaker of the Indonesian parliament, with specific reference to one of the areas listed for mining - Gag Island, off West Papua, where BHP-Billiton's proposed nickel mine will threaten the Raja Ampat archipelago (which includes Gag). According to UNESCO, the Raja Ampat archipelago contains the richest coral reefs with the highest marine biodiversity world-wide and is currently being considered for World Heritage listing. BHP-Billiton plans to use the submarine tailings disposal method at the proposal Gag nickel mine - which means dumping mining waste into this unique marine environment*.

In June, former environment minister Sony Keraf added his voice to the public outcry against mining in protected forests and called on Indonesia's parliamentarians "not to change the function of protected forests to be developed for mining, and to value conservation."

There have been protests against mining in protected forests in Jakarta and other cities. In one week in July, the NGO coalition recorded opposition in thirteen cities in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java, Nusa Tenggara Timur and Sulawesi. In both Central Sulawesi and South Kalimantan, the provincial governments have issued decisions against mining in their protected forests. In the case of Kalimantan, there is official support for a province-wide mining moratorium.

JATAM and its nine coalition partners are appealing for international support for their letter-writing campaign to stop more forest destruction by mining - see and


Diplomatic words

In early July, it was reported that Australian embassy staff had been quietly lobbying for mining to go ahead at the request of mining multinationals BHP-Billiton, Placer Dome, Rio Tinto and Newcrest. On no less than nine occasions, embassy officials pressed Indonesian government ministers and parliamentarians to permit the resumption of mining. News of the lobbying provoked an angry protest by students outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta on July 2nd.

Last year, similar pressure was brought to bear by Canada's Secretary of State for Asia, David Kilgour. The Indonesian newspaper, Bisnis Indonesia, reported that Kilgour asked Indonesia to review its ban on mining in protected forests, as it may impede Canadian investment. Canadian companies affected by the 1999 Forestry Law include Placer Dome in South Kalimantan's Meratus forests (see below), Weda Bay Minerals Inc which is developing a cobalt mine on Halmahera Island, North Maluku, that will dump waste in the sea (See DTE 53/54), and Inco, operators of the nickel mining and smelting operations in South and Central Sulawesi which have blighted the lives of local people for many years.


Delaying the decisions

The campaign to stop mining in Indonesia's protected areas has been gathering steam since October last year, when a forestry department official announced that an initial six companies would be permitted to continue mining their mining activities (see DTE 55). Around 150 companies with concessions covering 11.4 million hectares of protected forests were affected by the ban on open-pit mining. This has been in place since Forestry Law No.41/1999 was passed almost four years ago. The biggest overlaps are in West Papua, Sumatra and Kalimantan.

A short-list of 22 companies was put forward for screening by government officials and parliamentarians last year. Deadlines for deciding whether or not to permit mining came and went. The row between pro-industry elements of the government and mining companies on the one hand, and the forestry and environment ministers plus NGO campaigners on the other, continued into 2003. In January this year, Indonesian NGOs said they would oppose government plans to issue an emergency regulation (which would not require parliamentary approval) to permit mining to go ahead (see DTE 56).

In April, the Forestry ministry announced that the same six companies could go ahead with mining - in three of these areas the forest boundaries would be changed. A decision on the rest of the 22 companies was supposed to be due at the end of June. But on June 17th, energy and mineral resources minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro announced that fifteen companies (including 3 of the concessions already mentioned by the forestry ministry) would be permitted to resume mining activities, subject to presidential agreement. The minister said that the 15 companies had already been issued with "resumption permits" to continue mining. By mid-July, the figure was back up to 22, but, it transpires, the list is no longer the same as the original 22, with only 11 of the original shortlist remaining. Another official in the mining department said that all 124 companies affected by the 1999 Law should have the same treatment. A presidential decree paving the way for mining is currently being prepared.


Hidden costs

Mining is one of Indonesia's biggest revenue-earners, but it also destroys the natural resources on which tens of millions of rural and urban Indonesians depend for their livelihoods and health. The justification for allowing mining in protected forests is Indonesia's need for investment to help the country out of its protracted economic crisis - a move supported by Indonesia's creditors in the international community. According to mining minister Purnomo, investment from the four biggest concessions alone amount to US$9 billion. But NGOs are sceptical whether revenues from mining could even begin to make up for the long term environmental and social damage that mining brings - even without the corruption which ensures that very little trickles down to communities.


How much land?

The problems of mining and forest destruction cannot help but be closely intertwined in Indonesia since so much of the country's land surface is (or used to be) forest, and so much of the rock underneath contains commercially valuable minerals.

Forests (including degraded and fragmented forests) now cover less than half the country's total land area of 189 million hectares. Mining concessions cover an estimated 47 to 67 million hectares and the total forest area with potential for mining has been estimated as high as 84.7 million ha.


Indigenous lands

Mining concessions in forests more often than not also overlap with the customary lands of indigenous peoples. These peoples' land and resource rights continue to be ignored in the rush to extract profits. Their right to decide what developments are permitted on their territories is being systematically violated (see, for example, IMK case). In South Kalimantan indigenous Dayak Meratus and Dayak Samihim representatives have rejected Placer Dome's gold mining project, PT Meratus Sumber Mas. Placer's lobbying of the government sparked a demonstration in the provincial capital Banjarmasin on July 1st, which led to a declaration by the provincial government that it opposes the company's plans and is calling on the national parliament not to permit mining in the Meratus protected forest.

Indigenous opposition has also been strong in Central Sulawesi against PT Citra Palu Mineral's gold mining concession which overlaps with the Poboya-Paneki Forest Park and is located on indigenous lands (see DTE 57 and 56 for background to this case). Rio Tinto has again denied that it has any intentions to mine in the concession as it is in the process of selling its 90% stake to Newcrest. But, as this is dependent on mining being approved, it is clearly within the company's interest to see the mining ban lifted here. The forestry ministry has already said that mining will not be permitted in the concession, because it overlaps with the forest park and because the provincial authorities are opposed. Both the governor and the local assembly have reiterated their opposition to mining by PT CPM. "I'm not opposed to mining per se," said Governor Aminuddin Ponulele, "but I do oppose mining which impoverishes the community. Why mine if the community has to pay for the impacts?"

On July 22, JATAM reported that they had received a statement issued by 38 village heads from the indigenous Kao and Malifut people rejecting PT Nusa Halmahera Mineral's plans to mine in the Toguraci forests, on Halmahera Island, North Maluku. PT NHM is owned by Australia's Newcrest Mining. The company ran the nearby Gosowong gold mine which was worked out earlier this year. Local communities complain PTNHM did not keep its promises to them over the Gosowong mine.


Back to the bad old days?

If the decision goes against forest protection, this will also be the resumption of a policy which dates back to the early years of former President Suharto's regime. Suharto always favoured the interests of investors (and the prospects of lining his own pockets) over those of ordinary Indonesians who paid the hidden costs of mining with their livelihoods, economy, culture and health.

Many of the powerful industry players profiting during the Suharto era are those who today complain about the ban on mining in protection forests, about the lack of legal certainty caused by Indonesia's decentralisation programme, and by the state's failure to deal with protesters and illegal miners threatening their operations. They include Rio Tinto, Freeport MacMoran, BHP-Billiton, Newmont, BP and Inco - all major multinationals whose operations have caused conflict with local communities and environmental damage in many countries. What these companies fail to acknowledge is their own role in sustaining a dictatorship based on the forcible plunder of natural resources and theft of land and forests from its people.

This report is adapted from an article which was first published by World Rainforest Movement Bulletin in June 2003.

(Sources: DTE newsletters 53/54, 55 & 57 - see, 18/June/2003; WALHI 23/Jun/03; 14, 15/Jul/03; Laksamana.Net, 12/Jul/03; JATAM Media Advisory 22/Jul/03; Letter from Prof SC Hill, Director UNESCO Jakarta office to Ir Akbar Tandjung, Speaker of the DPR 25/Jun/03; Jakarta Post 28/Apr/03; 3,19, 22/Jul/03; JATAM news 3/Jul/03)


Newmont cyanide study

US-based gold-mining company PT Newmont Minahasa Raya and the environmental NGO WALHI have agreed to verify a study by the group which reveals that cyanide in the mine's tailings exceed the legal safety limit.

WALHI's study, announced in June, found that the tailings contained four times the allowed level of cyanide, and that the health of local people and the surrounding environment were endangered as a result. Newmont denies that cyanide levels are above the legally permitted levels.

The company uses the much-condemned submarine tailings disposal (STD) method both at its mine in North Sulawesi, as does sister company, PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara at its copper-gold-silver mine on Sumbawa Island. (Source: Jakarta Post 20/Jun/03. See DTE 48 for background.)

*For background to the STD issue see DTE website or for Bahasa Indonesia version.