Dayaks reoccupy traditional mines in Aurora Gold concession

Down to Earth No 43, November 1999

After many years of peaceful process and unsuccessful negotiations, Dayaks communities in Central Kalimantan have moved back on to their traditional mining sites. This direct action was taken as a last resort to defend rights consistently denied by the Indonesian government and by the mining company which took over their lands.

The reoccupation of traditional mining areas was announced in a September statement by the mining NGO network, JATAM. This said that "the indigenous people of Dayak Siang, Murung, and Bekumpi have successfully and peacefully taken back their mine pits that have been taken over by PT Indo Muro Kencana for almost 10 years." The people are angry that their demands for compensation and restoration of mining rights have been ignored by the company for so long and that promises of direct negotiations have led nowhere.

The Dayak communities were evicted from their small scale mines in Barito Utara district, Central Kalimantan, by military and police raids during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when their activities were declared illegal to make way for large-scale commercial mining. Homes were burned down; villagers were evicted at gun-point; mining equipment was confiscated and hundreds of local people were jailed for "illegal mining". (According to one newspaper report, 51 people were jailed.) The livelihoods of whole communities were denied them. Some families could no longer afford to send their children to school. The villagers lost their rubber and fruit plantations, farm lands and fish ponds and their sacred sites were desecrated. One entire village, Luit Raya, home to around 8,000 people, was totally destroyed to make way for the mine site. Compensation was paid in some cases but this was fixed at unacceptably low rates by the government without consulting the villagers.

PT Indo Muro Kencana (IMK), originally owned by Ashton Mining, is now 90% owned by Australia's Aurora Gold. The gold and silver mine, which exported about 1.4 tons of gold in 1998/99, has been in operation since late 1994. The company's concession area affects the lands of some 20,000 people in twelve villages. The company does not acknowledge indigenous rights to the lands and resources, citing Indonesian government legislation and legally binding contractual obligations.

In its statement JATAM acknowledges that the Dayak communities' direct action is a "highly risky choice" which may result in confrontation with the security forces and further victimisation. However, years of attempting to resolve matters through negotiation have ended in failure. Protest letters to local and central authorities, meetings with parliamentarians, members of the National Human Rights Commission, government ministers and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta did nothing to solve their problems.

In 1997 a community representative visited Aurora Gold's head office in Perth, Australia, where it was agreed to open negotiations between company and community. The community was asked to make a list of claims/demands in preparation for the meeting, duly submitted in August 1998. (This document prompted the district head to file a lawsuit on the grounds that it damaged his reputation.) Eventually, with the help of environmental NGO WALHI, a meeting was arranged for August 1999 but this failed to make any progress. The company rejected claims for land rights saying that no customary land was detailed in the government's land census. It also rejected claims for mining equipment on the grounds that such equipment had been declared illegal by the district government in 1987. According to documents circulated by JATAM, the company also rejected claims originating from the period before it bought into the mine. As this was the time when most evictions and raids against small scale miners occurred, it is not surprising that the negotiations got nowhere and further communication was considered useless.

Recent reports from the area indicate that tension is rising as the confrontation continues: at one stand-off villagers demanded that the company remove heavy machinery from a mining site but eventually withdrew; on another occasion a company bus ran through a roadblock put up by villagers on the road between one of the company mine sites and the processing plant.



JATAM and the community representatives have requested support for their demands. Letters to Aurora Gold should demand that the company:

  1. accept responsibility for violations of human rights suffered by the community;
  2. acknowledge community rights;
  3. make good the effects of pollution from the mine.

Letters should be addresses to: President Director, Aurora Gold Ltd., 2nd Floor, 24 Outram Street, West Perth WA 6005, Australia. For a sample letter and instructions on emailing the company contact JATAM at


Environmental damage

The grievances against IMK not only cover the denial of land and resource rights and the abuse of human rights, but also environmental damage. Local rivers have been contaminated by tailings and acid mine drainage, say local people. As a result the water can no longer be used for daily needs, as it causes rashes, sight disorders and the death of livestock.

IMK does not accept responsibility for environmental damage arguing that it "at all times has endeavoured to operate in compliance with, or exceed, Indonesian and international environmental regulations". It blames river pollution on the high level of harmful illegal dredging and sluicing activities in the area. It also declares its "respect" for the Dayak's traditional right to pan and carry out small scale sluicing activities in the rivers within the company concession "provided such activities do not involve the use of mercury or any other noxious substance, which poisons the environment."

Much of the non-traditional small-scale mining in Central Kalimantan and neighbouring provinces is practised by non-indigenous incomers, and is indeed harmful to the environment - a local official calculated that around 10 tonnes of mercury entered the rivers each year from such mining. The economic crisis of the past two years is believed to have driven more poverty-stricken people into the forests in search of gold and other minerals. But the question of who causes most river pollution cannot be resolved without extensive scientific testing, as Jeff Atkinson argues in his book Undermined: the impact of Australian mining companies in developing countries. The book, which includes a case study on IMK, goes on to say "most of the Dayak people living within the concession area believe, on the basis of their day-to-day observations, that the company is polluting their rivers".

(Sources: JATAM Action Alert (Help the effort of 20,000 Dayak people), 7/9/99; and updates 20/9/99, 21/9/99 & 1/10/99;; Indonesian Observer 14/9/99; J. Atkinson: Undermined CAA, 1998; Jawa Pos 25/7/99)