Rio Tinto's Kelian mine blockaded

Down to Earth No 52, February 2002

East Kalimantan's Kelian gold mine, operated by Anglo-Australian mining multinational Rio Tinto, was forced to cut production in January when four former employees blockaded an access road to the site. The four were protesting against the level of severance pay, according to the Indonesian daily Suara Pembaruan. (14/Jan/02) In 2000 blockades were mounted by local communities protesting against unfair treatment at the hands of the company (see DTE 47).


Mining the forests

Mines and energy ministry officials have indicated that companies will be permitted to develop mines in protected forests. The 1999 forestry law prohibited open pit mining in protected forests, bringing an estimated 150 mining projects to a standstill. Companies have been lobbying the government to reverse this decision, while environmental organisations are opposing any change. (See DTE 47). There are strong indications that an announcement will come soon: in January mines and energy minister Djoko Darmono said that new rules would be issued. "We are aware foreign investors are confused about overlapping regulation[s] but we will solve the problem," he said. Jakarta is under immense pressure to accommodate foreign companies in order to bring in much-needed investment - new projects have been at a standstill over recent months as companies wait for changes in their favour. A new mining law is expected to be passed soon which the companies hope will clarify the division of authority between central and regional governments.

Added pressure to change the rules on mining in forests came in January when the Australian multinational BHP Billiton announced that Canadian nickel miner Falconbridge had pulled out of a joint venture to mine nickel on Gag Island, West Papua, blaming problems with the regulations. BHP said it was reviewing its option for Gag.

Mining advocacy network JATAM has called on the government not to change the regulations on protected forests. The group points out that the clearance of forests and destruction of agricultural lands has contributed to the frequent flooding and landslides across the country, bringing loss of life and property. JATAM wants the government to focus on drafting more stringent regulations to tackle the causes of these disasters, rather than buckle to industry pressure and make changes that will lead to more environmental degradation.

JATAM is also urging the government not to withdraw two other regulations that are being challenged by the mining lobby. They are Decree No 21/2001 which prohibits mining on small islands and regulation No 82/2002 on water quality management and water pollution prevention. (JATAM press release 28/Jan/02; Reuters 25/Jan/02)


Inco urgent action

JATAM and Sulawesi NGO YTM have issued an urgent action letter-writing appeal to support communities rejecting mining on their land. Communities living in One Pute Jaya and Bahumotefe are calling for a renegotiation of Canadian mining giant INCO's contract of work. Contact for further details.

See also DTE reports on Inco.