NGOs call for Tangguh moratorium

Down to Earth No 53-54  August 2002

NGOs in Manokwari, West Papua, have called for activities at BP's Tangguh gas project to be suspended, following a day-long occupation of the project's base-camp in May. The question of security and military or police intervention at the project site remains a major concern.

Around 50 villagers from Saengga village blockaded BP's Tangguh project base-camp in May, forcing the suspension of activities. Local reports said that the non-violent protest resulted from the failure of the Manokwari district government and BP to follow up on agreements made at a workshop with the Saengga villagers the previous month. The blockade ended in the early evening without the intervention of police or military personnel.

Discussions between BP, the local government and the villagers at the April workshop covered status and value of community land taken for the project; access to natural resources; labour; community development, respect for community traditions, human rights, transport; road construction, village mapping and the setting up of a body to oversee agreements between the company and local people. The most urgent issue for the villagers is a review of the status and value of community land used for the project. The workshop had agreed to hold follow-up consultations on this in the district capital, Manokwari. (See JATAM's publication Kerebok Vol 3 No. 21 for more details -

In a press statement, the Manokwari Alliance for Tangguh Advocacy called for the community, BP Indonesia, Pertamina (the Indonesian state oil company and BP's partner) and the Manokwari government to follow up on unresolved problems without the use of violence. The Alliance called for a moratorium on the Tangguh project followed by open consultations, and the provision of information on likely impacts so that the community could have the opportunity to "deliberate and choose what is best for them."



Far from suspending or slowing down work at Tangguh, BP is pushing for fast track approval of the project by Jakarta. In July, BP's vice-president David Fitzsimmons urged Indonesia to speed up approval for Tangguh so that construction, and LNG (liquefied natural gas) delivery targets can be met.

The LNG terminal project covers an area of 3,164 hectares on the southern shore of Bintuni Bay on the adat (customary) land of local indigenous Papuan peoples and will be fed by offshore gas fields in the Bay (see DTE 52 for more background information on the project). Construction of the LNG plant is due to start next year, with the first LNG delivery scheduled for late 2005 or early 2006.

The project's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), submitted in March, has not yet been approved, although provincial and national-level hearings with the environmental protection agency, Bapedal, have gone ahead. The central government and West Papua authorities have recommended that final consent should depend on the resolution of a number of outstanding issues, including resettlement. The Manokwari Alliance objected to what they saw as a "forced and rushed" EIA process, in which affected communities did not receive sufficient information on the potential negative impacts of the project. WALHI, the environmental NGO, objected to the whole EIA approval process, stating that the process was legally invalid due to the merging of Bapedal with the state environment ministry (see DTE 52).

BP believes Tangguh is the front-runner to win a 3.3 million tonnes-per-year gas supply contract with China, worth an annual $450 million for 20-25 years. BP's competitors are ExxonMobil (Quatar project) and Australia's North West Shelf joint venture (Woodside Petroleum, Shell, ChevronTexaco, BHP Billiton, BP, Mitsubishi and Mistui.) ExxonMobil's Arun gas project in Aceh has been the site of gross human rights violations by military security guards against local people (see next article and DTE 52 and DTE 50)

(Dow Jones Newswires 6/Jul/02; AFP 6/Jul/02; AFX-Asia 9/Jul/02)



BP says it does not want to follow in the footsteps of ExxonMobil in Aceh or, closer to home, the Freeport/Rio Tinto gold and copper mine in West Papua, where, again, there is a long record of abuse by security forces paid to protect the mine. (Rio Tinto is also BP's partner in East Kalimantan's giant KPC coal mine). BP is attempting to distinguish Tangguh from these tainted projects by emphasising its commitment to stakeholder consultation and the publicly expressed intention to keep the military out of the project. As part of this effort, BP has set up a Commission, led by Senator George Mitchell, to subject the project to external scrutiny. As yet, no details of the Commission's intended work or expected outputs have been made public. In April, before the Commission's visit to West Papua, DTE met its four members in London. After consulting widely with Indonesian and Papuan colleagues, DTE drew up a statement outlining major concerns with the project. These included:

  • land rights: there is a need to resolve problems surrounding the transfer of land belonging to Saengga villagers to the people resettled from Tanah Merah, whose own land will be used for the LNG terminal site. The Commission also needs to understand the conflict between state and adat land status and any potential changes under West Papua's special autonomy status;
  • the settlement of outstanding issues: including an enquiry into the deaths of infants in Weriagar village (North coast of Bintuni Bay) and compensation claims for sago stands destroyed during exploration activities by BP's predecessor in the project, Arco;
  • The right to veto and the need to secure prior informed consent of local communities;
  • The EIA (AMDAL) process;
  • Security, the military and human rights: the Indonesian security forces operate with impunity and are not always subject to central government control. There is a long history of appalling human rights abuses in West Papua which have never been properly investigated, let alone the perpetrators brought to justice;
  • The need for a genuine act of self-determination; the DTE statement said it was important that BP takes account of the political situation in West Papua, were these is popular demand for independence;
  • Transparency, accountability and follow-up on consultations: BP is gathering input from local, national and international stakeholders and appears to be making more effort than most companies in inviting participation, but many of these groups will remain sceptical of the consultations until there is evidence that their input is being taken seriously and acted upon. BP's commitments are target-orientated (eg reduced military presence), with little or no information on the process - how these targets will be reached.

DTE also made several recommendations on how the Commission should conduct its work and stressed the need for transparency. To date, DTE has received no information on what the Commission has achieved since this meeting. The Commission visited Indonesia and West Papua in June, but did not consult with or receive input from key NGOs in Jakarta or Manokwari.

A separate human rights impact report compiled by former US state department staff, Bennet Freeman, has not yet been made public.


Military commander visits Tangguh

In March, Major General Mahidin Simbolon, Papua's military commander, visited the Tangguh project together with other members of the security forces. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, quoting witnesses, "the visitors strolled around the project site brandishing automatic weapons". The newspaper also quoted unnamed BP officials saying that Simbolon had told them the military has an obligation to protect national assets such as BP's project. He had said that only a ruling by President Megawati could deter the military from taking charge of security. In response to a letter from West Papua Association UK, BP Indonesia said Simbolon did not make this last comment, and that he had suggested that the company should work closely with the community to prevent problems.

According to a report in JATAM's newsletter, Kerebok, the Indonesian military and police have visited the Saengga base camp several times. Citing local sources, Kerebokstates that there are also plans to create a new Kodim (district level military command), in the Tofoi area, around one and a half hours away from Tangguh by motorbike, as well as plans to enhance the status of the district police in the nearby village of Babo. If these plans go ahead it will mean more troops and police stationed close to the LNG project, increasing the potential of security force intervention at the site.

Local people have already witnessed the impact of Brimob police posts in neighbouring areas. Members of Brimob, the notorious police mobile brigade, have been brought in to guard logging operations run by Jakarta-based companies which have taken over vast tracts of adat land. In Wasior, east of Bintuni Bay, local people fled their villages during a police operation to hunt down the suspected killers of five Brimob officers. The killings and subsequent campaign of terror are seen by Papua-based human rights defenders as a warning to BP that they should not think they can manage without assistance from the security forces. Human rights group ELSHAM has questioned whether the Saengga protest could have been provoked from outside in order to justify police or military entry to the site.

According to a BP, there are 9 security guards at the Tangguh Base camp in Saengga, all recruited from villages directly affected by the project. In response to an enquiry from ELSHAM as to whether these guards received training from Indonesia's elite military Kopassus, BP said their training had been conducted in-house, with additional training by BP's main security contractor, AGI. BP hoped to recruit a further 30 guards from the directly affected villages. They would be trained by an "internationally-recognised provider", who would be bound by BP's "strict Code of Conduct." (Letter, circulated 21st May 2002)

BP's community-based security approach appears to have held until now, but it looks fragile. How far the company will be able to prevent direct intervention by involving the military and police in security is one of the biggest tests for the project.

(Source: Kerebok Vol 3/20, Mar/02 & 3/21, Apr/02; Wall Street Journal 19/Apr/02)


West Papua "Act of Free Choice" review campaign

In March this year a campaign was launched by West Papua solidarity organisations asking the UN secretary general to undertake a review of the United Nations' conduct in the 1969 Act of Free Choice, which provided for Indonesia's annexation of West Papua. The Act consisted of a "vote" by 1,022 persons, under intense pressure from the Indonesian authorities to adopt a decision that would confirm the territory's integration into the Republic of Indonesia. The result was a unanimous decision in favour of integration. The decision was later confirmed in a resolution of the UN General Assembly on 19 November 1969 which 'took note of' the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. The Act has been widely discredited over the past decades, most recently by the former UN Under-Secretary General, Chakravarthy Narasimhan, who oversaw the UN operation the territory. He admitted that the whole procedure was a "whitewash".

In June, DTE joined at least 40 other organisations around the world in writing to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to request this review. For more details about this campaign, contact West Papua Action, Ireland at The petition and supporting documents are at

A new book The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, by Dr John Saltford, is due out in September, published by Routledge-Curzon.