More protests against Indorayon/TPL pulp mill

Down to Earth No. 58, August 2003

The long record of human rights abuses associated with Indonesia's first pulp and rayon mill in North Sumatra has so far failed to convince the government to shut it down. The protests continue.

Fifty two village heads from three subdistricts in North Sumatra travelled to Jakarta in June to urge the government to shut down the notorious Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) mill, formerly known as Indorayon. At a demonstration with NGO supporters and students at the presidential palace, they also demanded a full investigation into human rights abuses and the withdrawal of special police forces (Brimob) from the area. Brimob personnel have been guarding the mill's operations and access roads for trucks transporting timber to the mill. Villagers say they are responsible for a campaign of intimidation against local people opposing the mill's reopening earlier this year. This includes firing shots at night, burning down local people's property and destroying vehicles used by the local communities.

A total of 22 people who oppose the mill's reopening have been jailed by the local authorities, charged with attacking the local subdistrict head's office and other offences related to the protests. Sixteen have already received sentences of between 6 months and 3.5 years. In June, two women prisoners, one of whom is a priest, were released, then re-arrested the following day due to an administrative hitch. *

Public protest forced a temporary closure in 1998, but in May 2002 the government decided the pulp mill should reopen. The rayon mill, part of the original complex, was not permitted to reopen and has since been relocated to China.

The mill is owned by the Raja Garuda Mas Group (the Indonesian conglomerate that also controls the highly indebted Singapore-based APRIL group) - see DTE 56 for more background.

Indonesian environmental NGO WALHI is supporting local campaigns to shut down TPL. In a June public hearing with Indonesian parliamentarians in Jakarta, WALHI warned that continued operations at the mill would cause more health problems for the local population, greater social instability in the region and further environmental degradation.

*DTE wrote to the Indonesian authorities to protest against these arrests.


Record of violence and torture

Since its construction in 1983, more than 127 people have been arrested or jailed for between 2 and 4 years, according to WALHI. Fifty people have received injuries requiring hospital treatment, seventeen people have lost their lives and five people have been disabled. Human rights violations associated with the mill's presence have included torture by security personnel, which led to the deaths of two people in 1998 and 2000. Peaceful protests are still being met with violent repression by armed security personnel. In May this year a 13 year-old boy was tortured by police and an 80 year-old woman was shot in the leg.


Environmental problems

WALHI says the mill is still producing dangerous chemicals despite the closure of the rayon mill. These include hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercaptans, chlorine and chlorine oxide, nitrogen oxides, organochlorines and phenolics. The emissions smell foul, and can cause upper respiratory channel infections. Compounds containing dioxins are bio-accumulative and can cause cancer 15-20 years on.

Minister for environment, Nabiel Makarim, said in June that the waste disposal at the plant was now OK, but the company must still do something about the foul stench. He has instructed the company to install the necessary technology to deal with this, which will take 6-9 months. He said they had no evidence of acid rain due to the mill. However, before blockades forced Indorayon's closure, the damage to trees, crops and corrugated iron roofs near the Porsea factory was obvious.


Overcapacity and debt

NGOs claim that the TPL mill's production capacity of 350,000 tonnes per year means further destruction for natural forests in the area. Timber felling for the Indorayon mill has been linked to landslides and flooding as the cleared forests can no longer act as an effective water catchment and regulator. WALHI says that degradation and loss of biodiversity in nearby Lake Toba will have a devastating impact on tourism in the area.

The Indonesian government, under pressure from its creditors grouped in the CGI, has agreed to tackle over-capacity in the wood-processing industries, since these industries threaten to consume Indonesia's remaining natural forests. There are some recent signs that some local authorities are starting to take action. However, the reopening of the Porsea plant and plans for new pulp mills in South Kalimantan for example (see box), show that Jakarta can do little in the face of local politicians who are determined to increase revenues regardless of the human and environmental costs.

Research by CIFOR in 2000, showed that APRIL and Indonesia's other big producer, APP, consumed as much as 15 million m3 of timber per year from natural forests in Sumatra. Both these highly-indebted companies and their timber tycoon founders are being bailed out at the expense of forests and livelihoods. Foreign and Indonesian creditors encourage higher production levels so that they have more chance of retrieving their investments. CIFOR and the Indonesian NGO, Telapak, have compiled data which shows that the Indonesian government has spent some Rp 34 trillion (almost US$4 billion) in taxes and foreign loans to bail out 111 forestry-related companies so that they can continue exploiting the forests.


South Kalimantan pulp mill gets forestry rights back

A major obstacle to the development of a pulp mill in South Kalimantan has been removed, according to Singapore-based company, United Fiber. The mill is opposed by local community groups and NGOs who fear the same environmental devastation and social disruption faced by communities living near other large mills in Indonesia. The 600,000 tonnes per year pulp mill, planned for Kalakaban, Tanah Laut district, is to be fed by 268,000 hectares of fast-growing pulpwood plantations to be developed in five blocks, some of which contain substantial areas of natural forest.

In November 2002, forestry minister Prakosa cancelled the plantation's licence (see DTE 56 for more background). Now, according to United Fiber, a Jakarta court has ordered Prakosa to withdraw his decree and return the forest concessions to the plantation company, a subsidiary of United Fiber. (Source: Reuters, 10/Jun/03)

(Source: Pembangunan Berkelanjutan di Indonesia: Antara Jargon dan Realitas, WALHI April 2003; Jakarta Post 23/Jan/03, 16/Apr/03, 10/June/03; Kampak, Hentikan Kesewenang-wenangan KAJARI TOBASA, received 13/Jun/03; 11/Jun/03; WALHI Kepala Desa Toba Samosir Gelar Aksi di Istana Negara 13/Jun/03. See also FoE report on APRIL at