Sunday, January 31, 2010

Faultlines shift in Malaysian politics

The ground floor of a three-storey building on a busy corner stands gutted by fire, as cars and pedestrians stream by. Inside, burnt-out computers and monitors lie surrounded by shards of broken glass and concrete, blackened by smoke. Outside, police find a spanner, a kerosene container and two scorched motorcycle helmets. This is the Assemblies of God Metro Tabernacle in Desa Melawati, a suburb on Kuala Lumpur's northern fringe. Arsonists attacked its offices, breaking the ground floor windows at midnight on January 8 and throwing Molotov cocktails inside the building. Two other attacks on churches took place in the early darkness that morning, and a fourth happened in broad daylight. Since then, Malaysia has experienced a wave of arson and vandalism attempts on churches that illiberal members of the majority Muslim community are threatening non-Muslims' right to worship freely.

The arson attempts followed the conclusion last month of a two-year case before the High Court. The court had been asked to decide whether the Malaysian Government could prevent non-Muslims from using the term ''Allah'' to describe God in religious texts and proceedings in the Malay language. The dispute first arose two years ago, when the Home Ministry, responsible to then prime minister Abdullah Badawi, banned the Herald, a weekly Catholic newspaper, from using the term in its Malay-language supplement. The ministry argued that if non-Muslim communities used the term it could ''confuse'' Muslims, giving rise to a controversy that would surely threaten national security. Catholic

Archbishop Murphy Pakiam challenged the order and, on December 31, Justice Lau Bee Lan ruled that the ban was ''illegal, null and void''. Lau ruled that the Government had failed to prove the security risk, and that freedom of religion and of speech are guaranteed by the Malaysian constitution.

A week later the Home Ministry granted the Herald a permit to continue publishing, on the condition that the newspaper print a ''restricted'' label on its front cover to indicate that only Christians should buy it. Only one of the firebombs that came in response to the decision caused any damage. But the fact that they occurred on that Friday morning was significant. A few hours later, a coalition of 38 Islamic non-government organisations held protests at three mosques. This was not a spontaneous outpouring of anger: organisers coordinated their action using walkie-talkies, and hung their banners ''Allah for Muslims only'' from media-friendly vantage points. This claim to exclusive use of the term is unique to Malaysia.

''Allah'', or ''the God'' in the Arabic language, is not only used by Muslims it is also used around the world by Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews, members of the other Abrahamic faiths.

The controversy has little to do with beliefs and practices intrinsic to Islam and much to do with Malaysian political circumstances, some longstanding and some quite recent. The most significant development in Malaysian public debate since the 1980s has been the fusion of Islamist political rhetoric and tactics with the language and
practices of Malay nationalism. As a result, a new Islamist nationalism has come to dominate political life in this multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. This nationalism builds on the conflation of ''the Malay community'' with ''the Muslim community'' in the Malaysian constitution, which states that Malays are Muslim by definition. For the Malaysian Government the National Front coalition, dominated by a Malay nationalist party this conflation has been a means of bolstering support since it came to power after independence from Britain in 1957. Islamist nationalism is also central to the demands made by the growing number of NGOs that argue the Government's line while competing with the Government for the political space it occupies. Members of these Islamist nationalist groups often have excellent access to government figures and members of the ruling party. But there is a growing problem for the Government and its supporters. As the results of the 2008 election showed, Malay-Muslim voters have grown less interested in this brand of identity politics.

As a result, opposition parties won a higher percentage of seats in 2008 than in any previous election since 1969. Those parties, currently united in the People's Alliance, campaigned on a multi- ethnic platform. One such party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, has achieved a remarkable reversal in Malaysian politics by defending non-Muslims' right to use ''Allah''. It can now pitch itself as the moderate Muslim party, and the Government as extremists. This was unthinkable as recently as 2002, when the National Front's campaign advertising portrayed PAS as the Taliban and argued that only the National Front could protect religious freedom.

Against this background, the logic of the Malay/ Muslim conflation for the Government is clear, and statements issued by some of the NGOs responsible for the Friday protests sought to reinforce the message. The Malay-language website of the student- centred Alliance of Malaysian Muslims, or ISMA, argues that Malaysia is unique in the Muslim world, and must not be compared with other countries in which non-Muslims use ''Allah''. In Malaysia, the Malay ethnic group is ''synonymous'' with Islam. Therefore, if Malay dignity is threatened, Islam's dignity is also directly threatened. According to ISMA, the struggle for Malay rights is not only a struggle for ethno-national expression, but a struggle for Islam itself.

Another article makes the argument in reverse. In Malaysia's case, it says, the use of ''Allah'' could spread beyond Christians to describe idols and animals, whose association with God is expressly forbidden by Islam. Here, ISMA is referring to Buddhists and Hindus, the nation's largest religious minorities, whose beliefs reference ''idols'' and animals. But these communities use other names to describe deities and spirits, and are not likely to abandon them for ''Allah''. Nevertheless, the ISMA article posed the following question: given the anger triggered by the 2005 Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, what could happen if an idol with an animal's head, carrying the name ''Allah'', were circulated in Malaysia? The bulk of Malaysia's Buddhists and Hindus are ethnic Chinese and Indians, Malaysia's largest non-Malay communities.

Arguments like those used by ISMA seem designed to draw an ethnic as well as a religious boundary between Malaysia's Muslims and non- Muslims. And insinuating that Malay-Muslims could commit violence against provocative minority communities draws on a longstanding theme in Malaysian politics, invoking the anti-Chinese riots of May 1969.

Since January 8 another six churches have been firebombed or vandalised, bringing the total to 10. The ''Allah'' debate has not yet played itself out. Meanwhile, Indonesian Muslim groups like the Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah have urged their members to refrain from copycat attacks. But comparisons with Christian and Muslim practices in Indonesia are unacceptable to the Malaysian Government. Briefing foreign journalists on January 11, the secretary-general of the Home Ministry, Mahmood Adam, argued that ''Malays here are different from [Muslims in] other countries. The landscape here is different from Indonesia so we can't compare.'' Emboldened by the Government's statements, some NGOs are preparing for a long campaign.

The Government has also defended the mosque protesters' right to demonstrate, a right it generally argues Malaysians do not possess. Speakers at the National Mosque protest spoke of ''Allah'' as an issue for the long term. Perhaps it is. It has taken more than 20 years for the ''Allah'' ban debate to gain such prominence in Malaysian political and religious life. It was in 1986 that the Malaysian government first introduced legislation preventing non-Muslims from using the term. The ban has not previously been enforced, however, and Malay-speaking Christians have continued to use ''Allah'' without incident. The recent revival of the ban has also revived the issue of potential Muslim confusion. The problem, as argued by supporters of the ban, is that using ''Allah'' for the Christian Holy Trinity, in which Jesus Christ is held to be the Son of God, contradicts the term's Islamic sense, in which the absolute indivisible unity of God (tawhid) is a fundamental tenet. In Islam, there cannot be a trinity, or any question of God fathering a child. The government also banned non-Muslims from using the terms ''solat'' (obligatory formal prayers), ''kaaba'' (the sacred structure visited by Muslims performing the Haj pilgrimage in Mecca), and ''baitullah'' (place of worship). Nevertheless, a speaker at this month's National Mosque protest argued it would only be a matter of time before churches were labelled ''baitullah,'' further confusing Muslims.

In the lead-up to the next Malaysian election, and disconcerted by the opposition's previous gains, the Government is acutely aware that it has relied on ''Malay unity'' to keep its electoral majority. This is why the National Front parties, the Government and the Islamist nationalist NGOs constantly urge Malay- Muslims to defend their common identity, arguing that minorities are different from them and threaten their interests. In case anyone should forget these purported differences, or become ''confused'' about their nature, the Government and the NGOs use issues such as the ''Allah'' question to reinforce the boundaries between the majority and the minority. As one speaker at the protest warned, ''Do not cross the boundary.'' On the other side of this boundary, non-Muslim Malays are constantly reminded that the majority can be goaded into violence by their practices, and that they need the Government to protect them from harm. To this end, the Government has promised a crackdown.

On January 13, the Home Minister, Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, threatened arsonists with imprisonment under the Internal Security Act, a colonial-era ordinance which provides for preventative detention. Using the Internal Security Act, combined with a looming appeal brought by the Government against the High Court's ''Allah'' decision, will strengthen the Government's argument that there is a security risk, posed by extremists who firebomb churches. It can then argue that banning the non-Muslim use of ''Allah'' is the way to prevent these extremists from being provoked. One NGO, Pribumi Perkasa, has already begun to assist the Government's case by calling the attacks sabotage performed by unknown parties to tarnish Islam and undermine the national economy. It has called for the Internal Security Act to be used against the perpetrators. If this strategy works, the Government will ultimately ''restore'' national security, detaining individuals connected to the arson. It will also ban the non-Muslim use of ''Allah,'' appeasing the manufactured pro-ban constituency. All sides will have been flattered or threatened into accepting the National Front, and the ethnic and religious boundary will have been reinforced. But neither the Government nor the NGOs can be sure that this move will unite its constituency. The mosque protests were small, reportedly attracting no more than 500 people each, including bystanders, some of whom refused to join in.

This modest turnout reinforces the message of the 2008 election result: that Malay Muslims are no longer a united political constituency.

The ''Allah'' controversy could leave the Government, which only a decade ago was lauded as a moderate example to the rest of the Muslim world, under increasing international criticism. Just last month, the Pew Forum, a United States think tank, ranked Malaysia the ninth most restrictive of 198 countries in its 2009 Global Restrictions on Religion survey. Seemingly in retaliation to the church firebombings, early on January 26 four severed pigs' heads in plastic bags were left in two mosque compounds in Petaling Jaya. This was no spontaneous reaction either, occurring more than two weeks after the first arson attempts. There is widespread speculation of an organised campaign aimed at provoking street conflict. Eight alleged arsonists were arrested on January 20, after one sought hospital treatment for his burns. Meanwhile, lawyers, political figures and NGO activists are gearing up for the next two ''Allah'' court cases the Government's appeal and a case brought by a woman, Jill Ireland, who is challenging a Home Ministry decision last year to confiscate Christian compact discs in her possession which referred to ''Allah''.
Submitted byAmrita Malhi researcher at the Australian National University. This article is published in Inside Story ( by Swinburne University of Technology in association with ANU.

No Porn, No Gore, No Sensitive Politics: Censored in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s thought police are attempting a comeback.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration, in fact, launched a surprising new offensive on free speech last year with an intensity not seen since the Suharto regime, which brutally ruled Indonesia for more than 30 years before being toppled in 1998. Such autocratic restrictions returned to the public’s radar in December when the Jakarta Foreign Correspondent’s Club canceled a screening of the film "Balibo" — which depicts the 1975 killing of five Australian journalists by the Indonesian military in East Timor — for fear of legal reprisals after being told that authorities had banned the film. The government’s growing penchant for the blacklist contrasts starkly with Indonesia's ferociously free press, possibly the most unfettered in Southeast Asia. That freedom was on display as nearly every newspaper, television and magazine organization in the country derided the censor’s decision to ban "Balibo."

The Indonesian Journalist’s Association openly defied the order, organizing dozens of screenings using text messages and social networking. Copies of the film are also easily found at numerous pirate DVD outlets around the capital Jakarta and clips are widely available on the web.

“There is no point in banning anything these days,” said Anhor Gonggong, a professor of history at the University of Indonesia who has spent a lifetime fighting censorship. “There is no use. If a film is banned we can still find it. If bookstores don’t carry a banned book, we can easily read it online. It’s no problem.”

Not that the government isn’t trying.

A new film law passed last September requires producers to now submit their scripts to a committee of red pens before shooting can begin. Even “slasher” films are getting slashed. The directors of the internationally acclaimed gore fest, “Rumah Dara (Dara’s House),” said the censors forced them to cut several particularly gruesome closeups.

But censors have been the most busy with the oldest of old media — books. More than 200 books are now listed as banned. After Suharto’s ouster, some books, including ones by celebrated Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, were taken off the blacklist and the practice in general nearly ceased. Between 2002 and 2008, the government banned only six books in total.

Five books were banned, by contrast, in 2009 alone.

Several more could meet the same fate within weeks, according Didiek Darmanto, a spokesman for the attorney general. And Patrialis Akbar, the minister for justice and human rights, with no hint of irony, said his department had suggested the attorney general ban another 20 books it deemed inflammatory.

All circulated media falls under the purview of the censors, including internet websites, Darmanto said. The two censorship boards (a collection of officials from departments like education, religion, police and national intelligence) refer to a law passed in 1963 to determine what should be blacklisted.

“Anything that can disturb the public order can be banned from circulation,” Darmanto said in an interview. He said items that contradict the country’s national development plan, spread concepts of Marxism, Leninism or communism, disparage the nation or national leadership, degrade morals (such as pornography), are anti-religion or disgrace any of the religions permitted in Indonesia or oppose an ethnic group or custom, could disturb the public order.

One recently banned book, which is easily available from any number of street-side booksellers, recounts the still mysterious ascendancy of Suharto in 1965 to when he became president in 1967. Others discuss religious pluralism. A book about the 1970s leftist organization known as Lekra, called “Lekra Doesn’t Burn Books,” was also recently banned, though not yet burned.

Facing criticism for the recent spike in censorship, the president pointed to the free press in his defense but warned a group of students last week that their freedom was “not unlimited.” Activists said the administration’s recent effort to control information has revealed its inability to move fully beyond the Suharto-era culture of repression they grew up in.

“The government is stuck in the past,” said Gonggong. “Banning books, that is not democratic. That is authoritarian. The government can’t have it both ways. We are free enough now that if they want to practice that sort authoritarian behavior, we will scream.” By Peter Gelling for the GlobalPost

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thailand - Full circle to another military coup?

THE STENCH of a military coup is thick in the air. There have been unusual troop movements, including tanks rolling in from Nakhon Ratchasima and Prachin Buri to the capital for reinforcement. Military units are making conspicuous appearances, one after another, to rally behind General Anupong Paochinda, the Army chief. They are venting their anger at Maj General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who has become enemy number one of the Army.

Khattiya, alias "Sae Daeng", is now a regular speaker for the red-shirt movement, which supports a return of Thaksin Shinawatra to power. Tomorrow, the red shirts will rally in front of the Army Command Centre in Bangkok to protest against what they claim to be, perhaps correctly this time, a looming military intervention. The military are falling into rank yet again.

Thailand is facing the spectre of political violence once more, ahead of the Supreme Court's February 26 ruling on the Bt76 billion assets seizure case against Thaksin. This time the confrontation is between the Army and the red-shirt protesters, or so it seems. In the 2006 coup, yellow-shirt protesters took on Thaksin supporters in street demonstrations before the military stepped in to defuse the crisis.

The red-shirt protesters have somewhat spared the Democrat-led government, instead aiming their latest attack against the military. Maybe they believe it will be quicker to draw blood to incite radical political change by attacking the military than the sitting-duck Abhisit government.

What would the military do if the red shirts were to storm into the streets as they did during the bloody Songkran festival last year? The Army could either stay idle and watch the violence escalate, or roll out the tanks again to pre-empt the crisis. Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda's wearing a full Army uniform recently also sent out a symbolic message that the military was getting ready.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is no longer in charge of the situation. He will be travelling to Davos today to participate in the World Economic Forum. A senior Democrat joked yesterday that he wasn't sure whether Abhisit could return to Thailand after leaving the country today. The September 19, 2006 coup took place while Thaksin was in New York preparing to give a speech at the United Nations. Much worse, the Democrats' view on constitutional amendment is diametrically opposed to that of the coalition partners. In this parliamentary game, Thaksin is hidden behind the scenes ready to rock the boat.

Thaksin has "twittered" to his red-shirt supporters that he will be setting up a government in exile in the event of a military coup. Ironically, Thaksin can only return to Thailand via a military intervention on his behalf. So a coup might not necessarily be bad for Thaksin, though he still tries to champion the cause of democracy.

In a way, it is rather funny that the whole Thai Army is now going after Maj General Khattiya in an exercise to show unity. This amounts to, so goes the old Thai saying, the whole Army mounting an elephant to catch a grasshopper. Meanwhile, police at Nang Lerng station have been caught in an awkward situation. They were barred from entering the office of General Anupong at the old Chulachomkhlao Military Academy to probe an alleged bomb attack. The police simply recorded the bomb incident, as related to them by the military, without having a chance to investigate the site.

Maj General Khattiya has become a scapegoat for this bomb hoax. But who would believe his innocence after the lies he has been telling lately, like the boy who cried wolf?

His Majesty the King on Monday gave a stern warning to judges in a rare royal appearance at the Siriraj Hospital. He called upon them to exercise their judgement with bravery and justice. The Supreme Court judges have now got the message that they must perform their duties with righteousness.

Thaksin, who still believes he can make a comeback, has launched a broadside attack in his final battle. This is evidenced in his attempt to drive a wedge into the coalition government through the constitutional amendments, as well as allegedly lobbying the court, and preparing to mobilise the red shirts for the final stand.
Yet still, Thaksin's chance of a comeback lies in a military intervention staged in his favour. But it appears that there is a consensus in the military that Thaksin will now have to be dealt with decisively. Between now and February 26, Thais will endure another stormy episode in this power play. The Nation, Bangkok

How Myanmar's Opium Grows

BANGKOK - The controversy over the scale of Myanmar's opium production took another turn with the release of a new report that claims cultivation has surged in territories where the military government has recently taken control. The report draws more extreme conclusions than recent research released by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), whose Bangkok-based representatives declined an invitation to attend the new report's release.

Entitled "Poisoned Hills: Opium cultivation surges under government control in Burma", the report was released by the Palaung Women's Organization (PWO), a non-governmental organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand. The new research corroborates the findings of previous reports about the drug trade in Myanmar, also known as Burma, published by the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), which unlike the UNODC relies on an extensive network of sources inside the Shan state for its data.

The PWO report said that "amounts [of opium grown] are far higher than reported in the annual surveys of the [UNODC], and are flourishing not in 'insurgent and ceasefire areas,' as claimed by the UN, but in areas controlled by Burma's military government". The report described how Myanmar authorities systematically extort fees from opium poppy farmers and file false eradication reports. The group
concluded that "unless the regime's militarization strategies are challenged, international funding will make little difference to the drug problem in Burma".

Those findings contrast sharply with the UNODC's own survey of opium production in Southeast Asia, which was released on December 14 to a large crowd of UN representatives, embassy officials and Thai and Western counter-narcotics officials, none of whom were present for the PWO's report's release. That's potentially because the UNODC relies on exclusive cooperation with Myanmar's military and government ministries and departments for its information and ground surveys, some analysts suggested at the PWO's report release.

The PWO report's findings are consistent with SHAN claims that the spread of opium poppy cultivation is directly related to the spread of government-backed and -trained militias in the area. According to SHAN editor Sai Khuensai Jaiyen, a long-time observer of the narcotics trade in Myanmar, Shan State areas that have fallen from insurgent to government control have seen a marked increase in the opium production.

At a press conference on Tuesday, he characterized that surge as a "balloon effect", wherein ceasefire groups that have banned cultivation in their own territories have seen it spread to new adjacent areas - all of which is under government control. By 2006, all known major drug-producing groups in Shan State had declared their areas free of poppy cultivation.

The National Democratic Alliance Army in northeastern Shan State made the claim in 1997; the Kokang in northern Shan State in 2002; the United Wa State Army, which is known to have diversified into methamphetamine production, in 2005; and the Loi Maw area in northern Shan State, the birthplace and one of the former operating areas of notorious drug lord Khun Sa, in 2006.

Although opium is no longer grown in these groups' controlled areas, Sai Kheunsai and sources close to Thai counter-narcotics officials say they are still involved in purchasing raw opium from growers and refining it into heroin. Much of the opium and heroin is then sold in the Golden Triangle region of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand to buyers from Hong Kong, from where it is often trafficked into China.

Drug-dealing militias

Since 2004, the junta has encouraged the formation of militias as an armed hedge against increasingly recalcitrant ceasefire armies. The trade-off is that the militias are allowed to engage in business activities, both legal and illegal, to support their operations. Members of community organizations representing ethnic Shan, Palaung, Kachin, Lahu and other groups in Shan State have claimed in interviews with this correspondent that government-backed militia commanders are involved in the cultivation, purchase and processing of opium in their controlled areas.

"The situation now is not unlike the Ka Kwe Yay time," said Sai Khuensai, referring to the historical period between 1963 and 1972 when government-recognized militia groups were allowed to trade in opium in exchange for fighting against various rebel groups then active in the Shan State.

Because many of the militia groups were more interested in the narcotics trade than fighting and eventually struck their own deals with rebels, the program was disbanded. By then, the program had spawned several now notorious druglords, including former Mong Tai Army leader Khun Sa and narcotics trafficker-turned-businessman and regime confidante Lo Hsing Han.

Curiously, the UNODC's 2009 opium survey for Myanmar makes no mention of these militia groups or their possible role in opium production. It does, however, note "indications that ceasefire groups are selling drugs to buy weapons and moving stocks to avoid detection". The leaders of those same groups, including Peng Jiasheng of the Kokang, Bao Youxiang of the UWSA and Lin Minxiang of the NDAA, were until recently lauded by the military government as "national race leaders" (ethnic group representatives) and their opium eradication efforts were praised by the generals as well as some counter-narcotics experts.

The UNODC has maintained a presence in Wa areas since 1998 and has facilitated other UN agencies and development organizations to establish programs in Wa and Kokang areas. The UN agency has also promoted programs in crop substitution and rural development. While the regime praised leaders such as Peng and Bao and the UNODC worked with them on development and opium eradication projects, little was said about their continued purchase of raw opium and its refinement into heroin.

Nor did the UNODC acknowledge some groups' switch to large-scale amphetamine production, which has helped to cover profits lost from opium eradication. The UNODC's 2009 opium survey says, "In 1996, the surrender of the notorious drug trafficker Khun Sa, leader of the Mong Tai Army, resulted in the collapse of armed resistance movements and led to the negotiation of a series of truce agreements with most breakaway factions."

Analysts note that the end of large-scale warfare in the Shan State occurred seven years earlier, when the factions of the former Burmese Communist Party that mutinied in 1989 agreed to ceasefires with the government. All of these groups were given tacit approval to continue their activities in the narcotics trade in exchange for ceasefire agreements.

In order to pressure ceasefire groups to transform their armed wings into military-controlled border guard forces, ahead of general elections planned for this year, the junta has recently condemned certain ceasefire group leaders. That includes the junta's publicizing of UWSA involvement in producing amphetamine shipments that have recently been seized along the Thai-Myanmar border.
A search for drugs sparked the crisis that culminated in last August's offensive against former national race leader Peng Jiasheng and his Kokang ceasefire army. (See Border war rattles China-Myanmar ties, Asia Times Online, September 1, 2009)
Since the late 1980s, the military regime has increased the number of battalions stationed in northern Myanmar. Currently over 150 battalions are based in Shan State alone. Rather than improve the security situation and end opium production, the increased military presence has resulted in rampant corruption.

The PWO report describes in detail the extortion money - which authorities refer to as "taxes" - demanded by the government and military on opium farmers. The unofficial levies are similar to those human-rights groups such as the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) and others claim are imposed on farmers for both legal and illegal crops across the country.

Corruption-riddled statistics

Corruption also makes official eradication figures, frequently quoted by the UNODC, suspect. The PWO found in its research that only 11% of poppy fields in two townships they investigated were destroyed during the 2008-2009 growing season - and most of this was only in areas that were easily visible. It also noted that while the police claimed in their reports - which the PWO obtained - that 25% of fields were destroyed in the 2008-9 growing period, the actual figure was closer to 11%.

Many of the fields that were reported as destroyed were actually left intact after the unofficial fees were paid and collected.

Despite the many reports detailing official corruption in Myanmar, the UNODC has relied heavily on government eradication reports, as well as ground surveys carried out by authorities, to verify its satellite imagery-produced data used to produce its yearly survey. In one telling contradiction, the PWO found that in the two townships of Mantong and Namkham 963 hectares were under opium cultivation during the 2006-2007 growing season, 1,458 ha in 2007-2008 and 4,545 ha in 2008-2009.

In contrast, the UNODC's survey claimed that 390 ha, 800 ha and 1,600 ha were under opium cultivation for those same years in all 23 townships in northern Shan State.

The discrepancy in data raises questions about how a group of local women using researchers based in their own areas and on a limited budget where able to derive seemingly more comprehensive figures than the UNODC.

Part of the reason for the increase in opium production can be blamed on economic mismanagement and poorly planned crop substitution programs. Farmers across the country have been hard hit by rising prices. In addition, traditional crops such as tea for the Palaung and the growing of leaves for cheroots by the Pa-O have seen drastic drops in price. At the same time, money must be found to pay the legal taxes and extortion fees by military units, police and government officials.

Failures of substitution crops such as rubber and sugar have also impacted farmers. As the UNODC's opium survey noted, many farmers who had stopped opium cultivation for more than two years could not land upon adequate means of substituting for their lost income. Other farmers have been hit by the high costs of fertilizers and seeds for crops meant as opium poppy substitutes, such as maize and improved rice varieties from China. To pay for these inputs, many farmers have been forced into debt. The result, say researchers in Shan State, is many would rather risk farming opium and paying the unofficial "taxes".

With the money being made from opium "taxes", the spread of opium-peddling government-backed militias and the tacit allowance of ceasefire groups to process opium in their areas, it is no wonder that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is behind on its 15-year eradication plan. According to Sai Khuensai, only 13 of 51 townships in Shan, Kachin, China and Kayah States targeted by the government have after 11 years become opium-free.

He and other observers claim that in the meanwhile, opium cultivation has spread into areas of the country that had never previously grown poppies, including in Mandalay, Magwe and Sagaing divisions, as well as Arakan, Kayah and Chin States. Notably, none of those areas of the country was surveyed in the UNODC's 2009 survey report.

At the root of the problem, say local groups such as PWO and SHAN as well asindependent drug trade observers, is a dire need for political reform. Instead of taking the government's figures at face value and calling for an increase in international development assistance for the junta's flawed eradication efforts, the UNODC should push for more input from community-based organizations to improve the accuracy of its surveys.

That would be a tough sell as curtailing the drug trade would cancel many of the incentives for ethnic leaders to form and lead militias loyal to the regime. It would also require vast new outlays from the central treasury to supply and equip much of the army which currently survives on revenues it collects from extortion fees. And more local-level collaboration with the UN agency would ultimately expose the regime's relations with drug trafficking organizations and the role the drug trade plays in perpetuating military rule. By By Brian McCartan For the Asia TimesBrian McCartan is a Bangkok-based freelance journalist.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

China must step up to its global responsibilities

FOR all the talk of an America in decline and a rising China, the crisis triggered by the devastating earthquake in Haiti is a reminder of the huge disparity that still exists between the ability of the United States to project power, for military or humanitarian purposes, and that of China.

The US was quick to react to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton putting off her Asian trip to deal with the crisis.

And President Barack Obama said in a speech: "To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.

"In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you."

Washington sent the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as well as three amphibious ships and a hospital ship to Haiti. In all, about 10,000 troops were sent to Haiti.

China was quick to offer aid, too, but the disparity was striking.
A 50-member Chinese rescue team arrived in Port-au-Prince two days after the earthquake struck, with three rescue dogs and 20 tonnes of equipment and humanitarian aid.

The Chinese rescue workers focused their efforts on United Nations headquarters, where Chinese peacekeepers and officials had been meeting with Hedi Annabi, the top UN official in Haiti. They recovered Annabi's body, as well as those of eight Chinese.

The US dominated the relief effort. Washington emphasised that it had "no intention of supplanting the leadership of Haiti".

However, the Haitian government clearly was in no position to respond to the crisis.

Last Friday, the American ambassador, Ken Merten, and the special representative of the UN secretary-general, Edmond Mulet, signed an agreement on coordination between the US and Haiti without any representative of the Haitian government being present.

The bodies of the eight Chinese -- four of whom were peacekeepers and the other four part of a delegation from China's Ministry of Public Security -- were flown back to Beijing, where they were honoured as heroes and mourned in an elaborate memorial ceremony attended by President Hu Jintao.

Many Chinese reports on Haiti linked the disaster with China's own earthquake in 2008, asserting that the Chinese therefore had special feelings for the Haitians.

People in Sichuan were quoted as saying that they wanted to go personally to help the Haitians.

Because the rescue workers dispatched by Beijing focused on the missing Chinese, some accused China of only being interested in rescuing its own nationals. But this charge was strongly rebutted.

In part, perhaps to counter such charges, Beijing announced on Sunday that it would send a 40-member medical care and epidemic prevention team to Haiti, along with 20 tons of medical supplies.

Nonetheless, China, now the world's second-largest economy, has come in for criticism for the relatively small amount of aid it has provided to Haiti.

John Bolton, former American ambassador to the United Nations, ridiculed the idea that China could replace the US.

"Nobody looks to China to be a source of humanitarian assistance," he said in an interview on Fox News. "They look to the United States."

Bolton also accused China of not providing more aid to Haiti because the country had diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not Beijing.

He challenged Beijing to at least match the amount of donations offered by Taiwan.

As of late last week, Taiwan had sent US$5 million (RM20 million) in aid while China had pledged US$4.4 million. But additional aid from both sides was expected.

China has in recent years succeeded in making dramatic inroads in Central and South America.

It is clearly interested in seeing to it that its image does not suffer as a result of the earthquake, even as that of the US improves.

This Chinese concern was made clear in an article published in the online edition of the People's Daily, which speculated that American rescue efforts would help Washington strengthen its position in its "backyard" and added: "The United States will also take this opportunity to expand its influence on countries to its south."

China has turned into a key competitor of the US in many realms but, when it comes to providing humanitarian aid, it is not in the same league as Washington -- at least not yet.

As China continues to rise, it must develop a policy for disaster relief around the world and make it clear that the world can look to Beijing and not just to Washington for help.Frank Ching for the New Straits Times

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The use of “Allah’ in Malaysia -Private dialogue a good start

INTERFAITH dialogues -- whether behind closed doors or in an open forum -- are necessary as there are many sharp edges protruding in Malaysia's multi-religious society. Certain groups and individuals, for various reasons, may oppose such consultations. Yet, there are no less others who do prejudge the initiative.

Such dialogues, if properly organised, can help find solutions to touchy issues which religious experts and leaders may not be able to tackle effectively and quickly enough on their own.

Discussions could centre on managing crises between religions. Better still if measures are drawn up that could help reduce tensions if not amicably resolve the conflicts altogether.

The reality is there are not many authorities that aggrieved parties could turn to when it comes to conflict of laws and religious overzeal.

Sweeping problems under the carpet would not help. All we need is for the respective representatives of religious groups to agree on the subject to talk about, lest the forum ends up encroaching on each other's faith.
Delayed actions or reactions, as they turned out to be, have led to untoward incidents like in the case of the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims that saw churches and surau being torched or vandalised.

The controversy around the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims remains a hot issue since the Dec 31 High Court ruling that the Herald has the constitutional right to use the word in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

The court ruling, which affects only the Herald, had been exaggerated by certain quarters as giving licence to all non-Muslims to use the word, it aroused anger of sections of the Muslim community.

Nobody in their sensible mind, regardless of their faith and religious belief, would condone the burning of places of worship. Thank God there were no casualties or injuries in the attacks, just material damage. The authorities too, had acted swiftly and those behind the spate of attacks on churches and surau have not escaped the arms of the law.

But the fact is, the underlying cause of such a violent act and the emotional scars left behind remain unaddressed. Conflicting statements, added by irresponsible comments in the blogsphere continue to fan sentiments.

A private interfaith dialogue therefore is good enough for a start. Perhaps public forums could come later, when Malaysians are confident that such dialogues are well-intentioned and for the good of the country.

The government is keen to resolve the issue of the word "Allah". Interviewed on TV3's Soal Jawab Bersama Perdana Menteri programme on Monday night, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said: "Yes, it is true we try to find a national consensus in whatever issue we face, including the issue of the word 'Allah'.

"We are still making efforts and there are signs that people are appreciative of the government's sincerity in this. They are aware that we are not playing politics."

The MCA also believes that an interfaith dialogue will be good for the country and discussed the idea at its recent presidential council meeting.

The party, said its deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, had been suggesting, even at the state level, there be a forum or a mechanism for an interfaith dialogue "so that any issue related to religion can be discussed with full understanding and without slogans, shouting and high emotions".

Islamic opposition party Pas is also game for interfaith dialogues. Its spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat believes that any form of conflict, perceived or real and religious or social, could be resolved if parties taking an opposing stance could argue with facts and not emotions.

"Bring in your arguments, not parade a cow's head or come armed with your fists," he said recently, where he also reiterated that the use of the word "Allah" was permissible for those following the Abrahamic faiths.

Nik Aziz, who is Kelantan menteri besar, is bringing in together leaders of various faiths in Kota Baru tomorrow to forge an understanding among people of different opinions or beliefs.

There is no harm for the various peoples in the country delving into Islamic, Christian, Hindu and other religious views for the good of the nation through discussion.

Interfaith dialogues are not aimed at conversion but to understand other religious cultures better. By Zubaidah Abu Bakar for the New Straits Times

Specter of an Asian double-dip recession

Asia's Economies Face Stimulus Downside As the global financial crisis triggered alarms across Asia, Singapore responded with a government program to aid its vulnerable workforce. The affluent city-state pumped US$3 billion into an employment protection program.

Under the Jobs Credit scheme, which was unveiled as part of the country's stimulus package to respond to the crisis, businesses were encouraged to retain their employees through training programs aimed to improve their skills.

This across-the-board initiative, where the government offered employers "wage support" for each employee, included small- and medium-sized enterprises and larger companies. The city-state was one of the worst-affected Asian countries, with its economic growth dropping from 6.7% to minus 11.5% as the global crisis intensified in 2009.

"The Singapore government used the crisis as an opportunity to train its workforce and provide better skills to improve competition in the medium term," said Gyorgy Szirackzi, a senior economist at the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Asia-Pacific office in Bangkok. "This will also help in the post-crisis stage."
This aid package accounted for a third of the $10.6 billion that the city-state's government spent as its stimulus package to soften the blow from the global crisis, which began in the United States in 2008.

Other East Asian countries followed this pattern of enhancing the quality of their local workforces affected by the crisis, albeit through different initiatives, Szirackzi told Inter Press Service. "Malaysia improved training of graduates who were about to enter the workforce. They concentrated on developing their IT [information technology] skills."

South Korea, on the other hand, gave a helping hand to its threatened workers by enhancing their foreign language skills. "The government implemented a program for young graduates to go abroad and learn a language to improve their fluency," said the
ILO official.
Such assistance to help skilled workers was with reason. These Asian countries had economies more integrated to US markets. South Korea and Singapore "were affected from the outset", states the ILO in a 2009 study. "In these economies, job losses in the financial sector took place immediately."

But as the crisis spread, its impacts were felt in other developing countries, with "millions of workers in key export industries in the region [having] been retrenched," the ILO notes. "Sales of labor-intensive manufacturing products, including toys and games, footwear and clothing are down sharply in the United States and Europe, as are higher value-added goods such as computers and related equipment and automobiles."

Countries like Thailand came to the rescue of some workers. Bangkok's financial package to boost its heavily export-dependent economy allocated funds to provide "skills training for retrenched workers", the ILO states.

The financial stimulus packages opened up jobs in other areas, too, as government money for infrastructure programs, ranging from road-building to improving drainage systems in urban centers, ensured more labor-intensive jobs.

These packages varied across East Asia. Indonesia and the Philippines had $7.1 billion and $7 billion, respectively, followed by Malaysia with $12.1 billion, Thailand with $39 billion and South Korea with $53.4 billion, according to a new United Nations report, "World Economic Situation and Prospects 2010".

Meanwhile, China, the region's economic powerhouse, dwarfed other countries with its stimulus package - $585.3 billion - or nearly 13.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Such government-led measures to expand "government expenditure on consumption and investment" have helped countries in East Asia reap some rewards, the UN report states. "The East Asian economies rebounded in the course of 2009 after suffering severe downturns in the aftermath of the [US-based] Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, when exports, industrial production and domestic investments weakened sharply."

The UN is consequently upbeat about its economic forecast for East Asia, predicting that the sub-region's economic growth will hit 6.7% in 2010, making it "the highest among all regions of the world".

During recession-hit 2009, the sub-region's economic growth was 4.1%, down from 6.2% in 2008 and 9.3% in 2007, reveals the 180-page UN report. "In fact, much of East Asia's growth in 2009 is accounted for by China, where GDP expanded by 8.1% compared to 9.0% in 2008."

Yet such a recovery has also given rise to a worrying question: When should governments turn off the stimulus package taps?

An early or untimely end to the stimulus packages could undermine the emerging signs of an economic recovery, the UN warns. "While the overall outlook for East Asia is favorable, the region faces several major policy challenges and downward risks, including a premature exit or sharp reversal of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policy measures that were put in place over the past year."

Particularly worrying is the specter of a double-dip recession, according to the UN report.

The labor market will feel the heat of such an early end to the financial packages, said Tiziana Bonapace, chief of the macroeconomic policy section at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, a Bangkok-based UN regional body. "An early withdrawal of the stimulus packages could see some of the special programs implemented in the region that ensured employment being unwound."

Yet at the same time, governments will come under pressure from growing public discontent about the expanding public debt and that constant spending by governments is crowding out the private sector. By Marwaan Macan-Markar for Asia Times/Inter Press Service

India’s Economic Miracle Turns 60

On Tuesday, the Republic of India celebrated its 60th anniversary. Though India had won its independence on Aug. 15, 1947, it was not until Jan. 26, 1950, that it adopted its permanent Constitution. The republic’s 60th birthday offers an appropriate occasion to take stock of its economic accomplishments.

Although India began by implementing sound institutions — a robust parliamentary democracy, independent judiciary, well-functioning bureaucracy and fiercely independent press — the economic policy framework it adopted was deeply flawed. By imposing licensing restrictions on products to be produced and imported, their quantity, selling prices and allocation among buyers, the government scuttled private initiative. It also reserved economic activity in a number of sectors exclusively for public enterprises.

And, beginning in the late 1960s, the government went on to nationalize the largest banks, insurance sector, oil companies and coal mines. With such straitjacketing, even the sound institutions and India’s talented entrepreneurs could deliver only modest growth. The economy grew at an average annual rate of 3.8 percent from 1951-52 to 1987-88. (India’s fiscal year begins on April 1 and ends on March 31.)
Modest liberalization and fiscal expansion, financed by incurring debt abroad, had begun to improve growth performance in small measures in the 1980s. The growth rate rose to 4.6 percent between 1981-82 and 1987-88 from 3.7 percent over the preceding 15 years.

With liberalization receiving some impetus under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the mid-1980s, and fiscal expansion continuing apace, a bigger spurt in the growth rate occurred in the late ’80s. But a mounting external debt to finance the fiscal deficits also culminated in a balance-of-payments crisis in June 1991. That crisis paved the way for systematic and systemic reforms beginning in July of that year. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, from 1991 to 1996, and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, from 1998 to 2004, presided over wholesale economic reforms, which eventually led to an unprecedented economic boom.

Entrepreneurs no longer needed a license for setting up manufacturing units or for importing the necessary machinery and inputs. Opening the way to private telecommunications operators meant consumers could buy phones instantly rather than waiting for years in a queue, a consequence of the Department of Telecommunications’ former monopoly.

Private airlines meant travelers were no longer held hostage by Indian Airlines. Indian and foreign private banks gave clients a considerable range of options, forcing better service even from state-owned banks.

For a long time, skeptics had argued that democracy was a barrier to East Asian-style miracle-level growth. Until the early 2000s, only authoritarian regimes such as those found in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong in the 1960s and
1970s and the People’s Republic of China in the 1980s and beyond, had grown at rates exceeding 8 percent on a sustained basis.

But Indian democracy has now cracked the myth of incompatibility of democracy and miracle-level growth. Its growth rate shifted to approximately 6 percent in the 1990s and early 2000s, and then jumped to 8.5 percent between 2003-04 and 2008-09. Poverty has declined as well.

What has been remarkable about years 2003-09 is that the economies of nearly all Indian states, whether rich or poor, have grown faster than in any other period. One other important indicator reinforces these observations: the spread of telephones. As late as the end of March 1999, India had a total of just 23 million phones, translating into 2.3 telephones per hundred individuals. By the end of September, this number had climbed to 509 million. Even in rural India, there is one phone per household on average.

The Indian economy has shown remarkable resilience to the recent global financial crisis. During the crisis year of 2008-09, the country managed 6.7 percent growth. From July to September 2009, growth rose to 7.9 percent compared with the year-earlier period.

In large part, the credit for weathering the economic downturn without much damage goes to Y. V. Reddy, the former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who resisted pressures from virtually every corner, including the Finance Ministry, to rapidly liberate the investment activity of Indian banks. Thanks to him, Indian banks had virtually no toxic assets and did not require significant infusion of capital to survive.

Increased incomes made possible by accelerated growth have placed ever-increasing amounts of tax revenues in the hands of the government. The United Progressive Alliance government has chosen to take advantage of these inflows to expand the social safety net. The central plank of these initiatives has been the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees one member of each rural household 100 days of employment (per financial year) at the minimum wage.
While this acceleration of social programs is to be applauded, the downside is that economic reforms have come to a standstill under the UPA government. Indeed, there are signs of a creeping return to the past interventionism.

For example, a decision was recently made to require all ultra-mega power projects to buy their equipment domestically. Likewise, a move is under way to extend minimum wage legislation to 340 million workers in the informal sector, bringing inspectors to the doorstep of even the tiniest enterprises and to households employing domestic servants.

Resorting to indirect and distortionary instruments such as this, rather than targeted instruments such as direct transfers to help the poor, is a source of worry if India is to sustain and accelerate its pace of growth and poverty alleviation. By Arvind Panagariya nonresident senior fellow on global economy and development at The Brookings Institution.

A Bright Economic Future for Indonesia

As world leaders and international businesspeople meet in Davos this week, they will do so in an environment of economic disquiet. A year after the biggest financial crisis to sweep the world since the Great Depression, the global economy is starting to grow again but there remains great anxiety.

First, there is fear that the massive fiscal stimulus unleashed in the United States and other major economies may have simply pushed economic recession into the future. Governments around the world must carefully balance between cutting spending too soon and allowing loose monetary policies to continue too long.

Against this backdrop unemployment remains unacceptably high in most developed countries, but particularly in the United States, where it stands at more than 10 percent. It is becoming increasingly clear that the comforting economic and political environment of the pre-crash world belongs to another era.

How does Indonesia position itself in this new world economic order? The country has been hailed as one of only a handful of economies that managed to post positive growth last year. Its banking system has remained relatively intact and is beginning to show signs of more lending.

And despite the recent political uproar over the controversial Bank Century bailout, Indonesia enjoys political stability and a government that has the trust of the majority of the people. Going forward, it will have to scale up its game if it wants to take maximum advantage of its current advantages.

Wednesday’s announcement of a new joint-venture infrastructure finance company, PT Indonesia Infrastructure Finance, which could potentially provide financing for a number of much-needed infrastructure projects with a total investment of up to Rp 30 trillion ($3.2 billion) for five years, is great news. It reflects strong investor interest in the country and, more important, will allow the economy to expand beyond the 5 percent targeted for this year.

That the joint venture is a partnership between the Indonesian government, the Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation and private investors illustrates the success of public-private ventures.

The government is planning to upgrade its outdated infrastructure at an estimated cost of some Rp 2,000 trillion in the next five years. Hopefully, the IIF will prove to be a role model for other such ventures.

The joint venture is one of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati’s projects under the government’s 100-day program, further proof that the administration remains on track with its development blueprint. This should be comforting news for the Indonesian people, who must remain confident for the future. These may be challenging times for governments and business leaders around the world, but Indonesia has shown that its economic house remains in good order. Jakarta Globe Editorial

Philippines Peace Talks Regain Traction After Lengthy Hiatus

The Philippines’ peace talks with the largest insurgency group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, have shown staying power since resuming last month after folding in 2008.

Cotabato, Philippines

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest insurgency group in the Philippines, is giving jaw-jaw another shot.

The peace talks, which resumed last month, are up against a tough political deadline, as President Gloria Arroyo prepares to step down in July. Observers say the two sides must also grapple with the fallout from a controversial 2008 territorial agreement that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional, sparking fierce clashes in central Mindanao that displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Yet for all that, the talks hold out hope of a power-sharing deal on the troubled island.

The latest cease-fire between the MILF and the Philippine government, signed last July, appears to be holding. A Malaysian-led monitoring team is expected to return as early as next month and will have an additional mandate to protect civilians while also watching for violations of the truce. For its part, the government has agreed not to pursue three MILF commanders who led the 2008 attacks and face criminal charges.

Ms. Arroyo has vowed to push for a final peace accord with the MILF that would be a legacy for her presidency, which began in 2001. Western diplomats and peace activists say this timetable for negotiations – begun in 2002 – is overly ambitious, given the divisions between negotiators on critical issues. “That would be fine for an administration that has time to go through all the steps. But this administration doesn’t,” says a Western diplomat in Manila.

A more likely outcome is a peace process that leaves the heavy lifting on constitutional issues to the next administration. The elections will be held in May. So far, the presidential front-runners have offered few specifics on Mindanao, though former president Joseph Estrada has vowed a return to anti-MILF military operations if he’s elected, an outcome that most analysts discount.

Inviting outside observers

One innovation in the revived talks is the formation of an international contact group to observe and advise the two sides. The group brings together Britain, Japan, Turkey, and four nongovernmental organizations, providing a degree of continuity and persuasion, though its scope is limited.

The MILF had wanted to designate friendly countries as international guarantors, but the government resisted this idea.The resumption of the peace process is supported by the US, which isn’t part of the contact group. While US Special Forces are helping Philippine troops to hunt down Islamist militants in parts of Mindanao, the US doesn’t consider the MILF to be terrorists. Indeed, senior US diplomats have traveled here to meet MILF leaders. This diplomacy is backed by increased development aid: 60 percent of US assistance to the Philippines goes to Mindanao.

Conflict stretches back decades

Since the 1970s, the MILF has fought for a separate homeland on an island that was once overwhelmingly Muslim but is now divided between Muslims and Christians, who form the majority in the Philippines. The group has about 15,000 combatants and continues to train and recruit.

In the 1990s, MILF fighters returning from Afghanistan opened their training camps to foreign militants, making Mindanao a regional terrorist hub. Those foreign links have mostly been severed, though not by all MILF base commanders, according to Philippine and US military officials.

In 2008, after six years of slow progress, peace negotiators agreed on the boundaries of a self-ruled “Bangsamoro” territory in Mindanao that the MILF had sought. But opposition flared in local Christian communities and the Supreme Court ruled the agreement as unconstitutional, a setback that quickly sank the peace talks.

Last year's cease-fire was reached after a troubling attack here: MILF bombers were behind the bombing of Cotabato’s Roman Catholic cathedral, says Army spokesman Col. Jonathan Ponce. Five people died and another 29 were injured in the attack. But Ponce said security forces would not pursue MILF commanders involved now that the group has entered peace talks.

The MILF hasn’t dropped its territorial claim but is prepared to put it aside while negotiators work on other points.

Diplomats say the government must do a better job of presenting the case for power-sharing in Mindanao if it wants to reach a final deal. But ceding to an autonomous region powers that are deemed national rights, such as control of mineral and coastlines, would require constitutional amendments. By Simon Montlake for The Christian Science Monitor

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Indonesian Gold Mining Reports

1. Eastern Indonesian Gold Rush

2. A Life for Gold

3. Newmont’s Golden Shine

4. Glittering Prize

- A Life for Gold [Traditional mining in Sekotong claims many lives. Are the gold deposits in mining areas of Lombok larger than those in Sumbawa? The desperate actions of illegal miners are a heavy burden on the shoulders of local administrations. Has the control effort failed?]

- Newmont’s Golden Shine [PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara dominates gold mining in Sumbawa Island but its submarine-tailing disposal is still in the spotlight. According to research, people around the mines depend too much on the international mining giant.]

- Glittering Prize [Investors are eyeing the gold potential of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). But the NTT population tends to reject gold exploration and mining, fearing it will harm the public interest and damage the environment.]

It is no secret that there are plenty of gold deposits in Indonesia. As a consequence, today the country is witnessing many gold mines opening of every size imaginable. Just like America during the 1848 gold rush, Indonesia is now experiencing its own gold fever.

GOLD mines of all sizes are scattered all the way from the westernmost corner of Sumatra Island to the lands of Papua. Freeport Indonesia manages the Grasberg Mountain gold mine, which contains the largest gold deposit in the world (also third-largest for copper deposits). In the past two years, according to records from the Department of Energy & Mineral Resources, many investors have been trying to find their way into West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province. Only a small part of this region is fertile enough to support farming or plantations, the rest are hard-ground pastures rich in gold, copper, and mineral deposits.

Gold deposits in the Batu Hijau goldmine in Sumbawa Island managed by PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (NNT) may not seem like much compared to Papua’s PT Freeport, but it is very promising nonetheless. Gold fever in Sekotong region, Lombok Island, has even reduced the number of people seeking work overseas.

Many investors are also trying to get their hands on the gold deposits in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province. The people of NTT in general are against the gold mining because they think it brings more harm than good. Moreover, the Komodo Island conservation area, which is a prime tourism site, also lies within the NTT region.

Over the past few years, more and more gold-rich areas have been discovered in Sulawesi. Examples include North Sulawesi province (here, PT Newmont Minahasa Raya once received public attention because of its infamous Buyat Bay pollution case), the gold mines in Bombana which—despite its rather problematic relationship with illegal miners—are said to have enormous gold deposits, and the Pobaya Gold Mine (Central Sulawesi) which shares a similar problem with its counterparts in Bombana.

Not to mention the gold deposits in the Maluku Islands—especially South Halmahera regency which has plenty of gold mines—and Obi Island and the Pamboang region.
Yet the main problem of gold mines remains: even though both official gold mining (either large-, medium-, or small-scale) and the illegal ones undeniably generate large incomes for the state, they also contribute to environmental damage. Over time, environmental pollution cases are becoming more apparent, and consequently they have also drawn more attention from society.

The problems of unauthorized gold mines (PETI), alias illegal mining, present a major headache for local administrations as well. Activities from these unauthorized mines often inflict severe damage on the environment, aside from claiming the lives of illegal miners due to their reckless mining methods.

Here at Tempo we try to “map” the problems of gold mines in the Eastern Indonesia Region. Because of the vast scope of the problem and the many gold mine locations in eastern Indonesia, we will present the report in a series of three articles. In this edition, we are focusing the report on the problems of gold mines in NTB and NTT. The two following reports will be about the gold mines in Sulawesi, and also the mining problems in Papua and Maluku.
A Life for Gold

Traditional mining in Sekotong claims many lives. Are the gold deposits in mining areas of Lombok larger than those in Sumbawa? The desperate actions of illegal miners are a heavy burden on the shoulders of local administrations. Has the control effort failed?

EVER since illegal gold mining began to surface in Sekotong subdistrict, West Lombok regency, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province, 50 people have lost their lives in the mines according to local administration records. Some suspect the number to be greater, only the deaths were not reported. There are hundreds of motorcycles parked for months in the mining sites, but no one has ever come to use them. Their owners are suspected to have perished somewhere within the mines, left unreported to the authorities.

Disaster strikes as the victims are slammed by rockslides which occur from their mining activities. Sekotong is a region of rocky hills, 500-800 meters above sea level. Miners work on hill slopes, leaning by 45 degrees on average, which would often send landslides in rainy seasons. Their traditional mining methods only make things worse: workers dig a ditch or hole more than 5 meters deep. Then, they further dig in any direction following the ground where they suspect the gold may be. The entrance holes are sometimes no larger than the size of their bodies. It is this mining method which often claims the lives of miners buried by landslides from newly dug grounds.

Even with the many lives of traditional miners lost, their number keeps increasing day by day. Records from the West Lombok regional administration, made via the reports from village chiefs in the mining areas, show that the number of illegal miners reaches as high as 3,000 people. Many think the actual number could be even higher, close to 4,000 people.

It is suspected that most of the miners are newcomers, coming from outside Lombok. They seem to give little regard to personal safety in their hunt for gold. They consider the fatal accidents an “occupational hazard.” They also tend to cover up the accident cases because they fear it would lead to the closing of the mines.

Indeed, the West Lombok administration finally closed illegal mines in Sekotong area, last December. Despite approval from the society for the closing, local people still protested it. In Selindungan village, one of the traditional gold mining sites, residents said that the mines in Sekotong had helped them escape from poverty and reduce unemployment as well. “When the government gives us work, we will stop mining. Until then we will continue working in the mines,” said one Selindungan villager.

Meanwhile, West Lombok Regent Zaini Arony, said that Sekotong is a region suitable for both tourism and mining. To help develop the region the West Lombok regional administration would need to organize the activities of unauthorized miners infesting Sekotong region, so that they can become environmentally friendly as well as preventing accidents from occurring. “The government is not intending to shut off the Sekotong people’s source of income. Instead, the government aims to organize the mining effort to pay more attention to the environment and the safety of their work,” said Regent Zaini as quoted by Suara NTB.

As Zaini said, illegal mines were closed to allow future mining operations to commence according to standard procedures, thus minimizing the effects of environmental damage. Sekotong’s gold mines have only helped exacerbate damage to the environment due to the mining activity. “The cost to fix the damage far exceeds what is obtained by the West Lombok local administration.”

During the closure the government will conduct research and investigation to make Sekotong a suitable mining region, as well as provide Sekotong people with the necessary skills needed to mine gold the correct way. According to Regent Zaini, out of 3,000 miners, only 27 percent of them are locals, the rest outsiders. “Should the people stubbornly continue with the mining, we would not hesitate to use heavy sanctions,” said Zaini.

The West Lombok local administration closed illegal gold mines in Sekotong, after a landslide claimed the lives of nine miners in January last year. However, illegal mining continues, though secretly, like mining only at night. The number of miners has even increased, perhaps because the bountiful gold in Sekotong is, after all, not just a false rumor.

It is said that every sack of gold-infused rocks, each weighing 20 kilograms, contains a minimum of 0.5 grams of gold. Such profit comes within a day, from mining to the rock processing. One miner even bragged about the 3 kilograms of pure gold he had obtained in a month, worth billions of rupiah, yet he only spent around Rp50 million to begin with.

Obviously the people of West Lombok, most of who are admittedly from less fortunate classes, along with people from other regions, are all drawn to join the hunt for gold. Gold mining in Sekotong has even reduced the amount of overseas contract worker (TKI) candidates in this region, especially those who are about to go to Malaysia. Before people started actively prospecting the Sekotong gold mines, around 250 foreign labor candidates came to the Mataram Immigration Office every day to process passports. Now their number has dwindled to just 40 to 50 people.

Jusuf Merukh, a gold mining entrepreneur, was the first to reveal the high gold deposits in Lombok Island. On November 28, 2007, before members of the Association of Young Indonesian Entrepreneurs (HIPMI), Jusuf, then a commissioner of PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara, explained that the gold deposit was larger than Sumbawa Island’s. “Lombok contains 3-5 grams of gold per ton, while Sumbawa has 2-2.5 grams of gold per ton,” claimed Merukh.

As is known, PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara holds the gold mining contract in Sumbawa and Lombok. In Sekotong, Newmont Nusa Tenggara surveyed from 1986 to 2004. After limited drilling, PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara declared Sekotong as having low potential. That is why it was returned to the NTB administration. However, according to rumors, Newmont gave back the mining rights because at that time the NTB provincial administration wanted to preserve Lombok as a tourism destination, free from large-scale mining.

Later on, PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara’s vacant spot was taken over by PT Indotan, which itself had been doing exploitation activities as well, after it obtained mining rights from the local administration. When the NTB provincial administration issued its Local Regulation on Territorial Layout Plan No. 11/2006, PT Indotan ceased its exploitation activities. The exploitation activities are later carried out by locals beginning from early 2008. Since then, illegal miners from around Lombok and other regions of the country have swarmed into the gold-rich territory.

Undeniably, these illegal mining activities have been moving the economy in Sekotong. Profits flow in to not only the miners, but also the various supporting sectors. For example, there are jobs as dirt cleaners who clean the excess soil from gold mining operations off the mining site. Some have also opened soil/rock grinding centers known as “penggelundungan”.

Gold-bearing rocks are crushed using the grinding machine, down to the form of extracts (0.5 mm). Then it is purified using water, leaving the gold particles behind. This purification process utilizes mercury to act as a filter which traps the gold. The toxic waste is often disposed of recklessly, even though mercury is a poisonous chemical which poses a significant danger to human health.

Therefore, the West Lombok Regent’s effort of controlling and guiding the miners with proper knowledge of mining techniques, as well as organizing the mining zones, is the correct way to deal with this matter. Authorized mining activities are those which continue well into the future, are environmentally friendly, and work in perfect synergy with other sectors.

Until now Sekotong has been better known as a tourism destination with its beautiful nature, especially its breath-taking beaches and ocean scenery. Lately though, tourism investors are not the only ones interested in getting into Sekotong. Mining investors are also attracted to the potential in the region. Will the gold mines affect, in any way, the interest from tourism investors towards Sekotong?

Newmont’s Golden Shine

PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara dominates gold mining in Sumbawa Island
but its submarine-tailing disposal is still in the spotlight.

According to research, people around the mines depend too much on the international mining giant. THE gold deposits of Sumbawa Island, one of the largest islands in West Nusa Tenggara province, remain highly attractive. It’s not surprising then, if many investors are setting their eyes on the region. So far, PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (NNT), which discovered the gold deposits in Batu Hijau back in the mid-1980s, has dominated the gold mining there. Aside from NNT, other gold mining companies currently operating in Sumbawa include PT Indotan and PT SAMI (Southern Arc Mineral Inc, a Canadian mineral exploration company).

As one of the major players of gold and copper mining in Sumbawa, the works of NTT naturally attract nationwide attention. That is because NNT sits among the ranks of the largest gold and copper mining companies in the nation (number one is PT Freeport Indonesia in Papua). The attention intensified when the central government brought NNT before international arbitration in 2008, in a divestment of shares case. As commonly known, international arbitration granted the plaintiff’s demand last year, ordering NNT to sell its remaining 17 percent of shares to the Indonesian government.

In Sumbawa, NNT holds mining permits in Batu Hijau, North Lunyuk, Elang, Rinti, and Panas Bay. Batu Hijau—located in the southwestern part of Sumbawa Island, in Jereweh and Sekongkang districts, Sumbawa regency, NTB—is the one place where NNT has begun to work and exploit so far. Batu Hijau mine delivered 455 million pounds of copper and 485,530 ounces of gold in 2009. The mine employs some 8,000 workers. Suffice to say, NNT generates quite a lot of exchange for both the local and national economy of Indonesia, with an overall value of Rp7.66 trillion, aside from Rp2.65 trillion in taxes and royalties paid to the regional and central administration in March 2009.

Only 40 percent of Batu Hijau resources have been extracted. With the remaining materials, Batu Hijau is predicted to deplete its content by 2014. Rocks in it stockpile will remain available for mining until 2025. These rocks are of medium- and low-grade gold content. Only after it exhausts Batu Hijau will NNT move on to the next mine, according to rumors.

Apart from the divestment case, one thing that has also sparked the concerns of many people is the disposal of mining waste (tailing) from NNT, which dumps it on the sea floor. Until now, NNT has dumped hundreds of tons of tailings in Senunu Bay. NNT uses submarine tailing disposal, said to be 17 percent cheaper compared to conventional methods, to deliver their waste load into the sea. This cheaper method had previously proven effective in destroying Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi.

However, according to NNT, this time they securely handle the waste at the Batu Hijau mining site. From the mine, tailings are carried to the coastline via a 13-kilometer-long pipeline, nearly 1 meter in diameter. Here, seawater helps dilute the tailing mud. Then, the waste is further carried down into a submerged pipe, which extends 3.2 kilometers from the coastline, 100 meters below the sea surface. The end of this pipe is the final destination for the waste mud: a seabed canyon, plunging down 3,400 meters deep into the ocean. Such a great depth is estimated will prevent the tailings from ever resurfacing.

Another problem of Batu Hijau is the exceptionally high dependency of people around the mining territory, including the population centers of Sekongkang, Jereweh, and Taliwang Brang Readan, on NNT. This statement comes from the result of a research on the dependency of people around the mine on NNT, conducted by the University of Indonesia. The dependency rate reaches 97 percent, or, in other words, almost totally on NNT. The dependency of these 107,402 people, living in an area 1,849 square kilometers, began when the mining infrastructure program started in 1996.

People must be continuously reminded that the mining will inevitably stop at some point. The development and empowerment of people around the mining area in education, health, agriculture, and infrastructure must be improved.

That, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no illegal miners in Sumbawa. They do exist, and usually obtain their “illegal” status by trespassing into an area whose mining right is owned by the gold mining company. The latest report came in last October, when illegal miners were spotted within the vicinity of an area contracted by NNT in Dodo-Rinti territory. Traditional miners enter unexploited areas, and nothing seems to be done to deal with them.
Traditional gold mining is also rampant in territories other than those owned by NNT, like in Lamuntet, Brang Rea district, and Seloto Taliwang in West Sumbawa regency, to name a few. These illegal mining activities are now contaminating the Taliwang River with mercury.

Glittering Prize

Investors are eyeing the gold potential of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). But the NTT population tends to reject gold exploration and mining, fearing it will harm the public interest and damage the environment.

THE gold potential in the province of NTT has become a target of many investors, foreign and domestic. In the course of 2004-2007 alone, the administrations of West Manggarai, Central Manggarai and East Manggarai granted 20 mining concessions. However, mining operations are frequently seen as in opposition to the needs of society so that they are always subject to controversy.

Various protests and conflicts have emerged in Jakarta as well as regions. One of the complaints was lodged in August 2009. Around 200 people of NTT origin staged a demo in Jakarta against different mining operations in the province which increasingly aroused their concern. They indicated that gold exploration and mining had reduced agricultural land and harmed tourism. The situation worsened as they considered the mining activity incapable of optimally contributing to local people’s economic development.

The diverse cases exposed in the media mostly took place on Flores Island. In Lembata, various circles protested against mining operations for fear of harming community life and the environment. In Batugosok, a polemic arose because of this area’s position as a buffer zone of Komodo National Park. Meanwhile in Tebedo reaction was strong because mining was deemed destructive to a forest preserve.
Lembata is one of the regencies in NTT resulting from the split of East Flores regency on October 15, 1999. As are most regions in NTT, Lembata is comparatively dry and barren. Nonetheless, agriculture remains the economic basis of its people.

The mining potential has been well-known since the time of ethnic ancestors on Lembata Island. In the local tongue, they used to say Ihin weren laba lodan, meaning ‘gold deposits are in the ground’. This tradition led to the belief among residents that gold is what they inherit from their land. Surveys conducted by Japanese and American satellites in the 1970s confirmed this; according to a business portal,, satellite scans showed that gold and copper reserves on Lembata Island were the third largest after Russia and Chile.

This gold potential was not left unexploited by a local investor. Starting in May 2005, a businessman from Rote (NTT), Jusuf Merukh, in cooperation with several foreign companies, initiated gold mining in Lembata through one of his subsidiaries, Merukh Lembata Copper (MLC). But this plan faced opposition from many parties. In December 2006, people in a number of villages rejected the project citing the damage to nature, their environments and means of living.

On March 14, 2009, the village community of Lewolein, an area in Lembata where gold deposits abound, intercepted a group of Lembata councilors as they were going to give information on Law No. 4/2009 on Mineral and Coal Mining.

The Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), a mining non-governmental organization, through its website has put forward two considerations for rejecting mining operations in Lembata. First, Lembata is a dry and barren area. Water supply difficulty is the main problem. Mining operations that drain a lot of water, denude forests and excavate the earth surface and deeper layers create the potential for floods, landslides and a water crisis. Water will be more difficult to obtain and get polluted. Second, Lembata is disaster-prone due to its location on the path of an ever moving earth plate. Lembata is also within the circular belt of volcanoes.
Mining exploitation will cause faults in earth layers and crush the soil structure. Lembata Island may sink.

In the same tone as JATAM, the Community of Flores and Lembata Catholic Clergy in Jakarta has also rejected the presence of mining firms in Flores, Lembata and surrounding islands because Lembata is on the belt of volcanoes, in the region of an earth plate fault, with limited water supply, steep topography and a small island area.

The Leragere community in Lebatukan district, Lembata regency, has conducted regular actions in the Lembata council and the office of Regent Andreas Duli Manik in Lewoleba, the capital of Lembata, against any mining activity. They say no to mining not only because the activity will deprive them of their land, but also because it will make them lose their ancestral soil and identity.

Regent Duli Manik, as quoted by Antara news agency, said in Lebatukan only Lewolein was believed to possess the gold potential so that the Leragere community’s fear was exaggerated. Gabriel Suku Kotan, a Laragere resident, said his community was not to blame because locals had been informed that their land would be cleared when Merukh’s mining exploitation was realized.

Manik added that the area in Lebatukan with the potential for gold mining was only Lewolein village, but in order to ascertain the deposits contained, the company concerned would still have to undertake surveys and could not directly carry out exploitation.

Responding to the public protests, Merukh said the community was unaware of what the complaints were all about. He also added the protests from Leragere were sponsored by certain parties already utilized by US mining conglomerates.
To calm down the community, Jusuf Merukh said he would build an apartment to accommodate evicted residents and a school for students from kindergarten to senior high school levels. About Rp40 billion will be allocated for the education of Lembata’s children.

He hoped the community would not be too worried about environment damage because mining waste products would be dumped on land and would not be harmful to the surrounding environment.

Yet on the basis of previous experience, Merukh’s promises are doubted. Siti Memunah from JATAM, as published in Flores Pos, said the fate of people in the two mines whose shares were owned by Jusuf Merukh in Sumbawa and Minahasa was tragic. A total of 266 Buyat residents, North Sulawesi, were left in uncertain condition as their environment was rendered unhealthy by Newmont Minahasa Raya’s mining, with Merukh’s 20 percent shares in the firm. In NTT, Merukh also owned the shares of Newmont NTT. Local people reported eviction and a water crisis in the locations.

Merukh planned to begin his gold and mineral exploitation in Lembata in 2008. But the plan failed to materialize as several mining licenses were not signed by Lembata Regent Andreas Duli Manik owing to his company’s unsatisfactory environment impact analysis (Amdal). Merukh was also deemed incapable of turning out survey results on the gold and copper potential on the island.

In the west of Lembata, in West Manggarai, some areas are believed to be also rich in gold. West Manggarai Regent Wilfridus Fidelis Pranda in July 2008 signed concessions for mining in Batugosok, Tebedo and elsewhere with different investors.

Beginning mid-January 2009 a mining company from China, PT Grand Nusantara, conducted its activity in Batugosok, West Manggarai. In fact, Batugosok and its surrounding areas belong to a commercial tourism zone as stipulated in the West Manggarai Regional Regulation No. 30/2005. Batugosok is a buffer zone of Komodo National Park, which is part of the world’s natural heritage and nominated as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The marine zone of Komodo National Park is home to around 1,000 species of decorative fish and deep-sea fish, with at least 50 spots of sea parks known as recreation areas for divers.

The tourism sector as the prized asset of West Flores was thus threatened. Agustinus Dawarja from the institute of Juctice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) told Perspektif Baru radio that the growth of tourism in Flores since 1996 had been significant, among others due to the existence of Komodo National Park, the only one of its kind in the world. Without this park, it would be more difficult to promote West Flores as a tourist destination. Moreover, Komodo National Park is not only Flores’ asset, but also that of the world because of its only surviving species of ancient reptiles on this planet.

Conflict grew deeper when on May 13, 2009, then-Minister of Forestry M.S. Kaban issued a decree permitting the movement of 10 of 15 komodos remaining in Wae Wuul Nature Reserve, West Manggarai, NTT, to Bali. Spokesman for the East Nusa Tenggara Anti-Mining Community Alliance (Arang NTT) suspected the planned movement of being linked with the exploration project around Wae Wuul Nature Reserve, West Manggarai, NTT.

Some circles strongly criticized the mining activity. Many of them described the regional administration’s policy leading to the granting of mining concessions as contradictory. The effort to make a success of Komodo National Park as one of the world’s seven wonders was spoiled by the mining concessions in its buffer zone.

Theodorus Hamun, Chairman of the Association of Indonesian Tours & Travel (Asita), West Manggarai, as quoted by the Environment Information Center website, said Komodo National Park and its surrounding areas like Labuan Bajo and Batugosok, should have their environment conserved. Mining operations will spoil diving activity because mining waste products will drift into the sea.

Hendrik Siregar, Manager Critical Zone Advocacy of JATAM, told Tempo in 2009 that by damaging one of its buffer areas, the entire setup of the national park would also be damaged. Actually this park is among the cleanest and most exotic in the world.

Apart from disrupting Komodo National Park, mining also has the potential to damage the environment, harm tourism and violate local customs. The Group of Concern for Manggarai urged that mining operations be discontinued for causing environment destruction. Pius Ginting, a campaigner against mining from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), told Antara that any mining activity would have the potential to create waste products and harm the environment.

The Manggarai community, according to Hendrik, disagrees with the opening of mines as they will threaten sources of life like water and soil fertility. The community felt its members had not been involved in mining licensing while the activity would affect their lives. Therefore, JATAM along with other organizations like Walhi and JPIC OPM insisted that the government terminate mining activity and urge the Regional House of Representatives to form a Special Committee.

Herry Maraden, a hotel owner in Batugosok, said his guests were disturbed by the excavation and filling of a hill. Land owners said they had never allowed the use of land for any mining operation. Licenses are not only issued for land complete with certificates, but land owners based on communal rights should be recognized as the regional administration obtains communal land from the community.

The West Manggarai Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) asked the regent to provisionally suspend the mining in Batugosok. Ambrosius Janggat, West Manggarai DPRD Deputy Speaker, said the council had not been consulted by the regent regarding the mining concessions.

West Manggarai Regent Wilfirdaus Fidelis Pranda, as quoted by the website of the State Minister for the Environment, just described the presence of mines as positive. In his view, the mines will change the barren area of Batugosok into one with high economic value because there will be side businesses like hotels and also access roads.

Head of the Mining and Energy Office of NTT, Bria Yohanes, said the activity undertaken by PT. Grand Nusantara had not yet damaged the environment as it was in the exploration phase. As published in Pos Kupang, he indicated the mining business knew no environment destruction, but it would change the environment from a condition previously untended by investors and without economic value, into one handled by investors and with high economic value.

To respond to the controversy over mining operations, Bria Yohanes said he would send a joint team from the province of NTT to closely inspect the process of gold mining exploration.

The State Minister for the Environment finally intervened by banning the mining. At a press conference on July 14, 2009, Minister Rachmat Witoelar stated the mining activity in Batugosok had to be terminated because the license granted deviated from regional spatial layout rules. The mining area was within a zone where mining is prohibited. The mining activity in Batugosok was seen as leading to exploitation. Before making the statement, the minister’s office had assigned a team to evaluate the activity in the location.

Still in West Manggarai, the exploration carried out by PT Sejahtera Prima Nusa Mining (SPNM) in Tebedo, Boleng district, 18 kilometers east of Labuan Bajo, also triggered a polemic. The government and NGOs differed in views about the damage caused by mining operations so that conflict arose.

Chairman of the Defense Team for Indonesian Democracy (TPDI) of NTT, Meridian Dewanta Dado, as quoted by Flores Pos, said based on an investigation conducted by activists of the Anti-Mining Community Movement (Geram) and other sources, the mining exploration already realized in Tebedo had damaged the forest zone of Bowosie RTK 108 with a radius of 700 meters. Besides, PT SPNM was suspected of having no license yet from the Minister of Forestry for mining exploitation.

Dado expressed his readiness to take action against the investors. The mining activity without the Forestry Minister’s license and within the forest preserve is liable to a maximum imprisonment of 10 years and a maximum fine of Rp5 billion.
The statement of the NTT Police Chief about the mining issue angered local NGOs. Chairman of Geram, a consortium of 40 anti-mining NGOs, Florianus Suryon, told Timor Express in the yard of the West Manggarai regency police office on January 9, 2010 that the NTT Regional Police Chief said the gold mine of Tebedo located in Pota Wangka village had ceased to operate after finding no minerals. Its miners had also left. Therefore, the police chief asked not to raise the issue any more. He also said the tree damage was minimum because bulldozers had hit a rocky hill instead of a forest. The work was also done for road building.

Geram strongly protested the NTT Police Chief’s account. Suryon said the police chief had claimed to have no precise knowledge of the mining in West Mangarai yet. In fact, the mining case had been handled by West Manggarai Police investigators for five months. Various circles were also disappointed by the statement. According to Father Robert, a representative of JPIC of the Ruteng Archbishopric, West Manggarai, what the police chief said did not reflect the reality of the actual issue. A law enforcer should have spoken according to the existing legal facts rather than assumptions. Coordinator of Greenpeace for West Manggarai, Father Marsel Agot SVD described the NTT Police Chief as mistaken in viewing the reality of the problem.

Obviously the pros and cons of gold exploitation in NTT will still go on. All parties need to see the problem clearly and seek the best solution so that gold mining can proceed without harming public interests and damaging the environment. The regional government and all public institutions in NTT should act as a fair intermediary, instead of even confronting their own communities.
Tempo Magazine Jakarta