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article imageCanadian mining company seeks to exploit Aceh's protected forests

By Elizabeth Batt     Apr 18, 2013 in Environment
Banda Aceh - A Canadian mining company has announced that it expects the governor of Sumatra’s Aceh province to allow it to destroy 1.2 million hectares of valuable and currently protected rainforest.
The East Asia Minerals Corporation -- an Asian-based, Canadian mineral exploration company, announced in a press release last Tuesday, that it was working closely with Indonesian government officials and is lobbying to have large tracts of the province reclassified from "protected forest" to "production forest."
According to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and Walhi National (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), the mining company admits to having a key role in a new spatial plan established by the Aceh Government. If the plan goes ahead, it would reduce protected forest areas from 68% to 45%, a loss of 1.2 million hectares that could force 'charismatic species' into extinction.
Aggressive corporation hires government official suspected of corruption
East Asia Minerals, which describes itself as "a well-financed, Asian-based, Canadian mineral exploration company with an aggressive exploration, acquisition and growth strategy," also announced that it had hired a senior government official, former Golkar Deputy Chairman Fadel Muhammad "to help them with these efforts."
In a press release to Digital Journal, SOCP and Walhi said that Fadel, the former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and former Governor of Gorontalo Province, "was re-named as a corruption suspect by the Attorney General’s office last week after several previous investigations over recent years."
Fadel stands accused of misusing Rp 5.4 billion (US$ 567,000) from the 2001 provincial budget during his tenure as Gorontalo’s governor. According to Edward Rochette, the Canadian mining company’s CEO, the former governor will act in an "advisory role ... and will provide invaluable assistance to enable the projects in Indonesia to move forward in a timely and sustainable manner."
Rochette, said Wahli and SOCP, "appears either unaware or unconcerned regarding the charges facing Dr. Fadel."
"This spatial plan is being developed via a highly 'unhealthy' process, in which foreign corporations are intervening and driving local policy," said Dedi Ratih, Spatial Planning Campaigner for WALHI Indonesia. "Reclassification of these forests is clearly not in the best interests of Aceh’s local communities," he added, "but instead in the interests of massive natural resources exploitation. This plan should be rejected immediately."
Company plans 'expansion in all directions'
East Asia Minerals is already drilling and mining at its Miwah mine in Aceh, one of three operations that it has in the province. The company announced that the reclassification of land would allow it to "fully exploit the area’s mining potential and expand exploratory drilling -- pushing into areas that are currently protected."
The areas in question include forests that are home to critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants.
"This world renowned protected area -- the Leuser Ecosystem -- is the only place on earth where orangutans, rhinos, tigers and elephants are found side by side and the least real hope for the survival of viable populations of each of them," said Dr. Ian Singleton, the director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. "If these plans proceed," he explained, "their future is in immediate jeopardy."
Conservation groups also expressed their concerns for the area's local people saying that the land is "completely inappropriate" for extractive uses, "including logging and mining." Illegal logging and mining "is already taking place in these concessions," they said, "with terrible consequences for both the forest and the incredible biodiversity it supports."
Spatial plan would add to existing disasters
Graham Usher, a landscape protection specialist who worked on a major review of Aceh’s forestry sector for the previous Governor, explained:
This is a dangerous move. Aceh’s people have experienced countless devastating landslides already in the past that were caused by exactly this kind of forest clearing and disregard for planning laws. This will result in yet more lives lost in coming years and immeasurable losses to local economies.
Usher added:
The East Asia Minerals press release is one of the strangest that I have ever seen. It essentially suggests that they and other extractive companies are effectively driving public policy, namely spatial planning, in Aceh. Not only is this a shocking admission of flawed governance, but the company even seems proud of it! Spatial planning should be based on sound scientific analysis of land suitability and environmental risks: not the profit margins of foreign companies!
Dangerous road system revived under new plan
East Asia Minerals readily acknowledges that the, "Aceh province has already lost more than a third of its forests in the past two decades alone," said SOCP and Wahli. The new spatial plan would also approve an new, extensive network of roads. And in a region already prone to natural disasters, they said, this could mean "catastrophic consequences for communities and agriculture downstream."
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The new road system, formerly named the Ladia Galaska' road network or the 'Spider Web' because of its appearance, is a resurrection of a previously rejected plan that was scrapped because of the severe environmental damage it would cause.
Singleton said that if the spatial plan was approved, it "would result in the highly publicized Tripa peat swamp forest losing its protected status and the loss of potentially extremely valuable carbon stocks, that could be traded in international markets."
Yet according to local media sources, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry has already accepted almost 100% of the Aceh Government’s new proposal.
"Peat swamps capture and store carbon at higher rates than other forests, and are particularly valuable in mitigating the effects of climate change," said Singleton. "Aceh would be far better off in the future if instead of trashing the resources it has left to the benefit of the highest bidder, it worked towards a more sustainable economy," he added.
A petition to the Governor of Aceh, Zaini Abdulah and the Vice-Governor of Aceh, Muzakkir Manaf, is calling for the immediate rejection of the spatial plan. An English version of the petition can be found at Change.org.
More about Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Leuser Ecosystem, Deforestation, Indonesia, East Asian Minerals
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