Sulawesi communities reject Rio Tinto's CPM mine

Down to Earth No 53-54  August 2002

The forested Kambuno mountains are the adat (customary) lands of the indigenous Poboya peoples and provide the basis for their livelihoods. Since Citra Palu Mineral (CPM) - 90% owned by Rio Tinto* - started exploration activities in the area in 1997, the communities have opposed the opening of a large gold mine, fearing damaging environmental and social impacts.

The forests, parts of which have 'Forest Park' status (called the Poboya-Paneki Forest Park) under Indonesian forest classification, are an important water catchment area, providing water supplies for the city of Palu. The forests are also rich in rare fauna like the dwarf buffalo (Bubalus sp) cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea sp) and brown eagle (Elanus hypolaneus).

CPM has a 561,050 hectare concession, part of which overlaps with the Poboya-Paneki Forest Park. It has the support of parts of the local and national government for developing a gold-mine in its concession, but has not yet secured the legally required approval of the forestry minister.

The communities, supported by Indonesia's mining advocacy network, JATAM, are rejecting any moves to open a mine. In a statement issued in late June, the Poboya community said they had managed the forests without causing environmental destruction long before the government designated the area as a forest park. The statement accused the central government of putting the company's interests ahead of the community's and warned that destruction of the forests would threaten the Palu Valley drinking water supply. The local assembly (DPRD) and governor have publicly stated their opposition to mining in the Park.

In June JATAM wrote to Rio Tinto and the British government urging them to respect the rights and interests of the communities. In a letter to Clare Short, the British secretary of state for international development, JATAM asked for support in calling on Rio Tinto to respect Indonesian laws which prohibit mining in protected forests. In a letter to Rio Tinto Chairman Sir Robert Wilson, JATAM demanded that the company refrain from selling its shares in PT CPM thus disposing of its responsibility and "leaving the Poboya community prey to another company who will try to exploit the area and people."

* Rio Tinto announced on 23rd March 2001 that it was selling its shares in PT CPM to Newcrest (a merger of Newmont Australia and BHP Billiton) but there has been no official confirmation that this sale went ahead. On the contrary, in April 2002, Jonathan Leslie, head of Rio Tinto's Gold division, told DTE that his company still owned PT CPM.


Reasons for rejecting the CPM mine

The following is extracted from the English summary of a booklet on Poboya by JATAM/SPRA. Translation by DTE.

Open-pit mine: It is almost certain PT CPM will be an open-pit mine. These are prohibited in protected forest areas under the Forestry Act No. 41/1999 (see first article). Open-pit mines use an extensive area and disrupt the local environment through the mine site, processing plant, waste rock and infrastructure. Hills become holes. Dust is generated by the mining and heavy trucks. Mine waste contaminates local water sources.

Displacement of local communities: Local people's land is taken. This often generates conflict. The state does not recognise the customary rights of indigenous communities such as the Vatutela and Bulili who live in this area. There is usually little or no consultation with local communities about the plans, let alone consent from them. The process of land acquisition may involve forced evictions, intimidation and oppression, including the use of the security forces (cf PT KEM in East Kalimantan, also owned by Rio Tinto).

Poverty and cultural erosion are caused by local people being deprived of their land. Their local knowledge and the indigenous economy are destroyed. PT CPM have held a meeting with the Poboya people and promised them compensation for their land, clean water supplies, housing and employment opportunities. Rio Tinto made similar promises to the Kelian people for the PT KEM mine.

Negative socio-economic aspects: The mine will generate conflict within the community by dividing it into pro and contra factions. Local knowledge and skills will be lost but, when less manual labour is needed and when the mine closes, there will be no employment for the indigenous population and incomers who worked at the mine. The local economy generated by the mine will collapse. Meanwhile, the mining company will have left the country with its profits, leaving the local people with all the problems.

Water shortages: The forest park is a water catchment area for Tondo and the Palu valley, which is a dry area. The R. Poboya, Vatutela/Tondo and Kawatuna which flow from it supply the local population and Palu city. The Poboya forests may also be important in maintaining the ground water levels in the area which supply people's wells in the city. Forest destruction for the mine, plus associated waste ponds, roads and housing will disrupt the hydrology. The mine itself will use a lot of water. This could all make Palu's critical water situation even worse. The people of Poboya will be worst affected by water shortages.

Risk of water pollution from mine waste: whether tailings are discharged into the river, collected in settling ponds or piped to the sea. Acid rock drainage from the mine site releases heavy metals into local water sources and groundwater.

Ecological destruction: Poboya has been declared a protected area for its conservation value. The local flora and fauna include endemic and endangered species. Forest destruction due to mining could increase soil erosion and the silting up of local rivers - already a serious problem. Much of the hillsides around the Palu valley are dry and bare. There is a danger of flooding and landslips if the remaining forest is destroyed.

Geological instability: The island of Sulawesi lies at the intersections of three tectonic plates. The whole island is subject to earthquakes, tremors, tsunami and volcanic eruptions. A major fault (the Palu-Koro) runs north-south through Palu. Donggala (1hour by road from Palu), was the epicentre of a major earthquake in 1927 - part of the coast is now the sea floor. Any seismic activity could damage a mine's waste ponds, waste tips and processing plants with huge potential pollution risks for the surrounding population.

Local people's opposition: Local people have expressed their opposition to the mine several times. NGOs have formed an alliance (Alliansi Advokasi Tambang Sulteng) to support local people in fighting the mine plan. Vatutela villagers wrote to the mining and energy minister, the Central Sulawesi governor and Palu municipal government on March 12th. A delegation accompanied by a local NGO protested to the provincial assembly on 16th April 2001 that the mine would destroy their agroforestry plots and take the land used for grazing and rice fields. Several hundred local people protested on 22nd April (Earth Day). The company is still carrying out activities in Poboya, but there has been no public meeting to explain the mine plans and its impact on the community and environment. No documents have been made public, including the Environmental Impact Assessment on which any license should be based. Central Sulawesi governor Aminuddin Ponulele says he will never give his approval to the mine because of the potential impact on the population of Palu and to safeguard future generations. The local nature conservation office is strongly opposed to mining within the forest park. It is concerned that the company has not consulted it about the test bores it had done or the proposed changes to the park boundary. The local environmental impact agency office is also opposed to mining in the park and is concerned that exploration has gone ahead before any EIA or before the local assembly has approved the project.

Permission refused: The local nature conservation office refused PT CPM permission to do test bores within the forest park (letter No. 682/DJ-VI/Biprog/1997), but the company went ahead. Exploratory boring started in 1998. Officially, explorations have only been carried out at 3 sites within the park, but a local NGO has found over 20 bore sites. PT CPM has now applied to the governor to get the borders of the park moved.


Indigenous people and local knowledge

Many traditional settlements (known locally as ngapa or boya) are still to be found within the Poboya-Paneki Forest Park. The indigenous communities have lived in this area for generations - long before it became a forest park.

Most of the indigenous people in and around the park practise a traditional form of agroforestry based on their local knowledge. Their use of natural resources and land is much the same as their ancestors'. Coffee, coconuts, cocoa, candlenut, maize and rice are the main crops. Under the customary law of the Bulili, for example, primary and secondary forest and water sources are owned communally. The forest and other land is used rotationally. Mature forest is used for collecting non-timber forest products such as rattan (used for building their houses) and hunting - although hunting is now forbidden in the park. Some of this forest, by mutual agreement, can be cleared to grow crops, then allowed to become secondary forest and eventually mature forest again. Some areas are specifically allocated for cultivation or hunting. Each type of forest land has its own local name and customary practices. As part of the Bulili's customary lands consists of rugged hills and gorges, the areas which they farm may be a considerable distance from their homes, but it is still part of their territory. The boundaries of their lands are only marked by natural features such as rivers.

Other communities, like the Tara and Ledo, make a living on the savanna-like grassland through a mixture of cultivation and livestock rearing. Sheep and cows are grazed on the grasslands and the people grow a range of crops even on the steepest slopes by piping water from springs and streams. They also rely on collecting and trading non-timber forest products.

In these and many other ways, local communities have developed their unique land use systems, customary practices and cultivation skills in response to their natural environment. However, the local economy has been affected because Poboya-Paneki has been declared a protected area. The authorities are trying to restrict traditional land use practices in the name of conservation. Ironically, at the very same time, the local government is trying to open up the area for mining. Such contradictory decisions make the local people confused. Hence the banner at the entrance to one indigenous settlement, Vatutela, which reads "We reject the Forest Park and Mining".


Sacred places

While some of the forest is used rotationally for cultivation and agroforestry, other parts are considered sacred and cannot be touched. The Vatutela community, for example, recognises three kinds of sacred forest, called pangale katumpua.

Many of the indigenous people of the forest park use these areas of sacred forest for special ceremonies, such as to call for rain during a prolonged dry season. Many are along rivers towards their sources. People believe their ancestors lived there high in the hills, before the communities settled in the valley. At one such location - Pomene on the R. Poboya - there are two ancient grave sites. Less than 1km from this sacred forest, PT Citra Palu Mineral has made four exploratory bore holes.

(Source: Our indigenous lands are not for gold mining! 28/Jun/02; Press release issued by Aliansi Balengga Ntodiea Kambuno, KAMUST, SPRA, JATAM & WALHI, 10/May/02; DTE's English summary of JATAM/SPRA's Mengeruk Emas Menebar Bencana, Jan 2002)



Write to Sir Robert Wilson, Chairman, Rio Tinto, to support community opposition to mining.

Fax: +44 (0)20 7 7930 3249
Address: 6 St James Square, London SW1Y 4LD, England.

Please send copies to JATAM or DTE