Targeting illegal logging in West Papua

Down to Earth No 65  May 2005

An NGO report shows how West Papua's rich, extensive forests are being stripped to satisfy China's demand for timber. The Indonesia government, keen to demonstrate to the international community that it is taking illegal logging and timber smuggling seriously, responded by promising action against corrupt military, police and forestry personnel. At the same time, indigenous Papuans are concerned that the crackdown is harming their community forestry operations.

London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Indonesian environmental group Telapak published a report in February saying that Papua has become the main illegal logging hotspot in Indonesia. As the forests of Sumatra, Sulawesi and Kalimantan are increasingly logged out, timber operations in West Papua are becoming more commercially attractive.

Entitled The Last Frontier, the report describes how some 300,000 cubic metres of merbau logs per month are smuggled from West Papua to wood processing factories in China. The NGO investigation traced this illegal trade through powerful international syndicates of brokers and fixers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and China - each with their specific role. It also revealed that the logging and timber smuggling operations are supported and managed by high-ranking Indonesian military (TNI) plus other government officials and law enforcers.

The pressure on Papua's forests has increased dramatically in recent years. The report identifies Sorong, Manokwari, Fak Fak, Nabire and Serui regencies as the main logging hotspots. The logs are shipped illegally to the Chinese port of Zhangjiagang and then transported to factories south of Shanghai where they are made into wooden flooring. Over 500 flooring factories have been set up in the town of Nanxun in only 5 years. These factories process at least one merbau log into flooring every minute. Half of the hardwood flooring is for export.

It is outsiders, from Indonesia, Malaysia and China, not the people of West Papua who get most financial gain from the wholesale plundering of the forests. A small number of timber bosses and brokers living in Jakarta, Hong Kong and Singapore as well as western companies selling flooring from China are making huge profits from this destructive trade. Merbau (Itsia sp) is one of the most valuable tropical hardwood species in Southeast Asia but, according to EIA/Telapak: "Papuan communities receive just US$0.46 for the timber needed to make one square metre of flooring. Manufactured and packaged, merbau flooring at Shanghai builder's merchants sells for only $18 per square metre…. The same flooring on sale in the US or UK costs up to $88."

EIA followed its report by exposing how a leading American distributor of hardwood flooring, Goodfellow Inc., is selling products made from logs illegally felled in West Papua. Goodfellow's president and CEO issued a public statement saying that the company was "committed to market products only where there is complete and documented legal chain of custody," and that its suppliers would soon be discussing this issue with Indonesian officials[1].



The following information arrived as DTE was going to press:

Operation Hutan Lestari was 'ended' in mid-May after several delegations of Papuans complained to parliament. In fact the operation's legal action has not ended, and around 62 cases are still to be put to trial.

There will be an auction of the confiscated timber, but, to the chagrin of community groups, this may just be part of the chain of ongoing corruption that the operation never solved. All the powerful entrepreneurs are reported to have paid their way out of prosecution. Those in jail are indigenous Papuans who cannot pay.

An Indonesian law firm is prepared to handle the case in the Supreme Court to determine the legality of two apparently 'conflicting' laws that affect local rights.


The Indonesian government's response

Forestry minister MS Kaban and environment minister Rachmat Witoelar were promising action within a week of publication of the EIA/Telapak report. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called a special cabinet meeting on the issue at the end of February. He ordered National Police chief Da'i Bachtiar to lead a co-ordinated crackdown on illegal loggers. A 1,500 member team under the control of the national police was instructed to take action against anyone involved in 'illegal logging' in a two-month operation called "Hutan Lestari" (sustainable forests). The integrated team comprises officials from the police, military, Attorney General's office, Department of Forestry, immigration and customs. Forestry minister Kaban is quoted as saying that, "personnel of the eastern navy, the police in Papua, the Trikora Regional Military Command [based in Papua's provincial capital of Jayapura], local offices of the ministries of forestry and immigration in Papua, all have indications of being involved." Da'i also said that fraud squad detectives would investigate suspects' bank accounts to check for evidence of money laundering.

By late April, various claims for the success of Operation Hutan Lestari were already being made, but hard information was more difficult to come by. Officials had reportedly seized more than 340,000 cubic metres of logs, 19,000 cubic metres of cut timber, 5 boats and 22 barges. The task force has apparently summonsed 157 people; 35 have been detained and 14 case files have been handed over to the prosecutors. It is not clear whether these include any of the 32 financiers of illegal logging operations in Papua and other provinces reported to the forestry minister by EIA/Telapak. Many of those suspects are Malaysian. Tang Eng Kwee, the Malaysian president of PT Wapoga Mutiara Timber, which has 800,000ha of logging concessions in West Papua, was prevented from leaving Indonesia.

At least three of the accused are middle-ranking Papuan police officers. National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said Comr. Martin Renau, the Papua police chief of special crimes division, would be investigated in Jakarta in the hope that he would cooperate in efforts to unravel illegal logging syndicates. The only two people currently facing court cases are two local forestry officials: Marthen Kayoi, head of the Papuan forestry office, and Marthen Luther Rumadas, head of West Irian Jaya district forestry office. One military officer has also apparently been arrested, but not named.


Pronouncements not prosecutions

The Indonesian government has said time and again that it is getting tough on 'illegal logging'. Presidential statements are usually followed by well-publicised seizures of illegally harvested logs and the arrests of local people and minor officials involved in illegal logging operations. Indonesian forest campaigners say that these cases represent the tip of an iceberg and often only expose small-scale operators who were unable or unwilling to pay the military, police, customs or forestry officials sufficient bribes. Meanwhile, all the major players in smuggling networks remain untouched.

Soon after he became president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared "war on illegal logging". He made this speech on November 11th 2004 near Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan - one of the many protected areas in Indonesia which have been ravaged by illegal logging. Despite this high profile speech and similar commitments at January's CGI meeting, it was late March before SBY issued a presidential decree to stop illegal logging (Inpres 4/2005). The current anti-illegal operation in West Papua was due to end in May, but the deadline has now been extended until June 7th. A spokesman for the Papua police force said this was because they were having problems handling the large volume of case files. In West Papua, several notorious figures in the illegal logging business have yet to be arrested, included one who is a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) and no-one in Jakarta has been touched by Operation Hutan Lestari.

Indonesia's forestry department sends out confusing messages, playing down the extent of deforestation and ignoring even its own evidence about the country's dwindling forests. The Forestry Department's website says that deforestation rates are 2.83 million ha/year over the last five years causing annual revenues losses to the government of Rp30 trillion (over US$3bn)[2]. Yet government officials have publicly admitted that Indonesia's forests are disappearing at 3.8 million ha/year[3].

An examination of satellite information on West Papua in 2000, when 42 logging operations were still active, showed that 1,697,000ha of the 9,854,000ha concession areas was already badly damaged secondary forest. Nevertheless, the department of forestry claims that deforestation there only averaged 118,000ha/year over the previous decade. Similarly, over two years ago, an official press release[4] stated that timber was already flooding out of West Papua illegally to Malaysia, China and other countries at the rate of 600,000 cubic metres per month - twice that revealed in the EIA/Telapak report - at a cost to the government of Rp7.2 billion in lost revenues. Operations by an integrated team set up by the Papuan governor in April 2003 (SK Gubernor 50/03) proved ineffective, mainly because the various parties did not work together effectively and the budget soon ran out. Since then, logging in West Papua has intensified. Without detailed policy measures which are fully funded from the National Budget, there will be no coherent, long-term action.

The Indonesian office of US-based NGO Conservational International has set up a database on illegal logging and wildlife trade in Papua. Although it was officially launched in April this year, this project has been collecting data from forestry and conservation authorities in Papua for several years. CI's Papua programme director, Agustinus Wijayanto, stated that, to date, legal action had had very limited impact. In 2000-2002, there were 40 cases involving 44,532 cu m of timber and, in 2003-4, only 18 cases involving 68,718 cu m. The amounts of timber seized in 4 years are a mere fraction of the monthly flow of logs out of West Papua and there were only 9 successful prosecutions during this period. The need for reliable data is obvious from the conflicting reports quoted above.

The situation is not helped by tensions between Indonesia's police and the forestry department - each accusing each other of inaction. Forestry minister Kaban complained that he had submitted a list of suspects ranging from local businessmen to members of parliament to the police, but that no investigations had taken place. He pressed the police to take action by the end of January. "Detain them right now, don't just question them", he urged in vain. Meanwhile, the police were promoting the success of their own operations against people involved in illegal logging in East Kalimantan in late 2004.


Need for appropriate action

Illegal logging and log smuggling in West Papua must be viewed against the background of a long-term political dispute over the sovereignty of this territory. Although West Papua is nominally under civil administration, the military control pervades every aspect of life right down to the smallest village. In addition, Jakarta has tried to weaken the unity of the Papuan people by dividing the province into several separate administrative areas. The tension between Jakarta and the local authorities in West Papua over the degree of autonomy they should have is reflected in measures to control illegal logging. The forestry minister and governor of Papua, J.P. Solosso, are locked in a dispute over who has the right to control logging in Papua's forests.

The two senior officials from the Papuan forestry offices who are facing trial as a result of Operation Hutan Lestari are accused of illegally issuing community logging permits (IPKMA). Jakarta claims this violates Indonesia's basic forestry law (No 41/99). The central government had already issued 54 licences for large-scale logging concessions covering 13 million hectares in West Papua by 2002. Solossa believes that Special Autonomy legislation (No 21/01) gives him the power to grant logging permits to local co-operatives. There are more than 300 so-called community logging co-operatives (KOPERMAS) in West Papua with IPKMA permits covering under 500,000ha. The Papuan governor also issued his own decree to defy the department of forestry's 2001 ban on log exports and provincial forestry officials refused to stick to limits on logging imposed by Jakarta in 2003.

Marthen Kayoi's lawyer argues that the issue is the validity of IPKMA documentation in Jakarta's eyes. If the Papuan forestry official is found guilty of illegal logging on these grounds, then the governor of Papua and all communities which hold IPKMA permits are also guilty. Since the minister of forestry has banked payments for the Papuan IPKMA licences, he is also technically culpable!

The problem is that although KOPERMAS were intended to help local communities to make a living from small-scale sustainable logging enterprises, the system has been widely exploited by powerful elites for their own interests. Typically, businessmen will use local forestry officials or the military to persuade indigenous communities to sign a 'co-operation agreement'. Local people are often promised a modest cash payment or a church, outboard motors or generators. Even if communities are reluctant to give up their rights, it is hard to refuse if the intermediary is a police or army officer. And if, as is often the case, the logging operations fell much more timber than was agreed, local people have no recourse. In this way, KOPERMAS cooperatives currently bring far more profit to the wood processing companies and managers running them than to the local economy.

Nevertheless, some indigenous communities insist that their operations are legitimate and that Jakarta's ban on IPKMAs is causing unemployment and hardship. The Papua Indigenous Community Federation issued a statement in March under the heading "Adat communities scapegoated for illegal logging - lack of political will?" The statement[5], signed by Zadrak Wambu of Papua's Adat Council, cites numerous clauses of Special Autonomy legislation which recognise adat community rights over natural resources. It argues that, instead of revoking IPKMAs and prosecuting local officials for issuing them, the authorities should be investigating how these logging permits have been abused by business interests and local elites. The statement concludes by proposing that licensing and management criteria for IPKMA should be strengthened to guarantee community welfare in the long term. At the time DTE went to press, there had been no official response. Forestry minister Kaban is quoted as saying that: "IPKMA permits are only fronts for private businessmen to exploit our forests…These IPKMA permits are illegal."

While the forestry department continues to focus on banning IPKMAs, it is ignoring two other, potentially greater problems. Firstly, the activities of 40 or so logging companies who continue to operate in West Papua under large-scale logging licences. These cover about thirty times as much forest as community logging permits. Due to the vast areas involved, the remoteness of the concessions and understaffed local forestry offices, these timber companies behave much as they please with little or no supervision. Secondly, some indigenous communities have become dependent on small-scale logging operations for their livelihoods. Young men who have received little education have few other prospects for employment. The Department of Forestry and Papuan authorities need to sort out the contradictions between national forestry legislation and special autonomy, if necessary through the Constitutional Court. It is also important that the two parties negotiate a new model for sustainable community logging, in consultation with indigenous communities in West Papua. Recognising indigenous institutions and securing community rights over land and resources must be part of this. Indonesian forestry policy, exemplified through official speeches by government officials and the preamble to forestry regulations stress that tackling conflict over natural resources and increasing community welfare are primary goals of Indonesia's forestry policy. It is time to put this policy into practice in West Papua.


International commitment

Concerted effort by the governments of consumer countries like China, USA and UK and producer countries like Indonesia is needed to stop destructive logging. Measures to stop smuggling syndicates and the international trade in illegal timber form a part of this. The UK, USA, Canada and other G8 countries are currently negotiating new measures to halt imports of illegally cut timber. On March 18th, G8 environment and development ministers met in Buxton, England and committed to action against the illegal timber trade. An agreement is expected to be signed by heads of state at a G8 meeting in Scotland in July.


The Chinese connection

China's voracious demand for raw materials is a growing threat to Indonesia's forests. China is rapidly becoming one of the world's major consumers of forest products. It consumes nearly 280 million cubic metres of timber a year, but can produce only half this amount legally from natural forests and plantations. A joint study[6] showed that China's imports of forest products rose from US$6.4 billion to $11.2 billion between 1997 and 2002. Imports are estimated to have reached nearly US$13 billion in 2003.

China imposed stringent measures to protect its own forests after massive flooding in the 1990s was attributed to deforestation. Logging was banned in many regions and large areas were designated nature reserves. At the same time, the authorities closed down many thousands of small pulp mills and factories which used agricultural residues. In their place, large-scale modern pulp and paper plants are being set up, which rely heavily on cheap Indonesian raw materials. The burgeoning economy, including wealthier Chinese who want bigger houses and more books and newspapers, further increases demand for forestry products. The Chinese prefer to import raw materials and process them at home as this generates added value and more local employment. The combined effect is a boom in imports of timber and paper pulp, while plywood imports slump.

Indonesia is a major supplier of timber to China, both directly and indirectly via Malaysia and Vietnam. Russia is also an important source. Much of this trade is illegal. A comparison of import and export figures in Malaysia and China indicates that more than half the logs registered by Chinese customs as Malaysian actually came from Indonesia. The EIA/Telapak report states that around 2.3 million cubic metres of Indonesian timber were smuggled onto the Chinese market last year. Indonesian government estimates are even higher at around 9 million cubic metres valued at Rp 18 trillion (US$1.86 billion).

The trade in logs between Indonesia and China violates the laws of both countries. Indonesia banned the export of raw timber in 2003. Also, China and Indonesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on illegal logging in December 2002 designed to halt the purchase of illegal timber. In practice this has had little effect. China has failed to respond to the Government of Indonesia's requests to implement the agreement. A senior official of China's State Forestry Administration vowed last month to take action against importers and manufacturers receiving smuggled logs, following the EIA/Telapak report. Nevertheless, China and Indonesia failed to reach agreement on action against the trade in illegal timber at a ministerial meeting in April. Indonesian forestry minister Kaban blamed the Chinese as they "did not care where the commodities come from". He claimed that all Chinese imports are considered legal under existing trade regulations. Kaban's optimism that negotiations will eventually succeed may be misplaced. As Indonesia wants to encourage trade and investment with China in other sectors of the economy, it is unlikely to put much pressure on the Chinese to implement effective controls against illegal timber imports.


The Last Frontier, Environment Investigation Agency & Telapak, Feb 2005 and a video on illegal logging in Papua are available from and


(Sources: Jakarta Post 18/Feb/05, 19/Feb/05, 3/Mar/05, 5/Mar/05, 12/Mar/05, 15/Mar/05, 30/Mar/05, 21/Apr/05, 26/Apr/05, 29/Apr/05, 30/Apr/05;Asia Times 28/Feb/05; Dept of Forestry press release 21/Mar/05;; EIA Press Release 17/Feb/05, 18/Apr/05; CI article in Cendrawasih Post 29/Apr/04; Tempo 6/Feb/05; AsiaViews 15/Apr/05; BBC News Online 12/Apr/05.)


  1. Letter from Richard Goodfellow dated 18/Apr/05
  2. DepHut Press release 21/Mar/05. Figures from 2003 (the most recent publicly available)
  3. See for example a paper presented by the Head of the Forestry Planning Department in November 2003.
  4. DepHut Press release 15/Jan/03.
  5. The DPMA statement (9/Mar/05) is available in English and Bahasa Indonesia.
  6. Meeting China's Demand for Forest Products', Xiufang Sun, Eugenia Katsigris & Andy White, Forest Trends, the Chinese Center for Agricultural Policy & CIFOR, 2004


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