Dec 7, 2012

Indonesia - Disputes over mining to intensify in Indonesia

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Indonesia's National Police and the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry warned yesterday of a potential rise in conflicts between miners and local communities following the detection of 900 violent hot spots across the archipelago.

Soaring illegal mining activities and the improper granting of mining permits and procedures are cited as the reasons driving these disputes.

Speaking before lawmakers from the House of Representatives Commission III on law and human rights and Commission VII on energy and natural mineral resources, National Police Criminal Investigation Directorate chief Comr. Gen. Sutarman said conflicts were likely become rife because of the 2013 local elections season.

According to the General Elections Commission (KPU), there will be 122 local elections next year.

Sutarman argued local leaders would tend to issue more mining permits against the will of the public to raise money from companies to fund their political campaigns.

"We have found a great number of disproportionate permits that were mostly issued on the heels of local polls," he said.

According to Sutarman, the National Police are currently investigating around 200 cases related to mining, allegedly involving around 137 individuals.

More than 200 people that had allegedly masterminded illegal mining operations had also been detained, added Sutarman.

The regent of North Penajam Paser in coal-rich East Kalimantan, Andi Harahap, has been declared a suspect by the police for allegedly abusing his authority through issuing illegal mining licenses for a private company to operate in his area.

Indonesia, the world's largest thermal coal exporter, has seen a rapid expansion in its mining sector, which currently accounts for 12 per cent of its gross domestic product.

However, the nation's legal infrastructure and supervisory mechanisms have failed to keep up with exploitation, creating substantial problems for the environment, the collection of state revenue and legal and community disputes.

Indonesia has experienced a boom in the issuance of mining permits after the 2009 Mining Law allowed local administrations to issue new mining permits.

As most of the permits were issued against the interests of the public, there has been a rise in conflicts between miners—both legal and illegal—and local residents.

In late 2011, two villagers were shot dead by the police for staging rallies demanding the Bima administration in East Nusa Tenggara to revoke the mining permit of PT Sumber Mineral Nusantara due to concerns over the environment and locals' livelihoods.

The latest major violent incident occurred in late October when thousands of local residents from three districts in South Tapanuli regency, North Sumatra, vandalised two district offices, three cars and one police station in protest against the installation of a mining pipeline belonging to PT Agincourt Resources in a nearby river.

No fatalities were reported, but several people and police officers were injured.

While the authorities struggle to resolve conflicts between local residents and miners with legal permits, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry's director general for minerals and coal, Thamrin Sihite, said officials were also finding it difficult to contain sprawling illegal mining activity.

"Poor law enforcement, limited employment, the discovery of new mining fields and syndicated operations are among the causes of rampant illegal mining," said Sihite.

"We are still updating the number of mining operators because most of them have permits from local administrations. We have so far recorded up to 10,100 permits of which only around 5,000 are considered clean," he said.

Commission VII member Satya Widya Yudha said legislators, along with regional councils and local administrations, were in the process of mapping all mining activities.

According to Yudha, once the process is completed, authorities will be able to detect mining concessions owned by local communities and those of companies.

"Then the House will have a basis to form a legal foundation for mining sites operated by local communities," said Yudha.

Soaring illegal mining activities and the improper granting of mining permits and procedures are cited as the reasons driving these disputes.

Margareth S. Aritonang

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