Government and Community Demand Placer Dome Out of Borneo
The government of South Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia, and Dayak Indigenous Community leaders have strongly denounced Placer Dome, a Vancouver and Sydney-based mining company, for its plans to commence mining operations in one of the last protected tropical forests in Indonesia. Despite fierce local government and community backlash, the mining giant intends to exploit mineral deposits situated in a mountain area that has enjoyed protected forest status since 1928.
Placer Dome's operations are opposed vehemently by the provincial government of South Kalimantan, which stands firm in its position against mining activities in the Meratus Mountain protected forest. Bachruddin Syarkawi, the leader of the provincial House of Representatives, has called on the national government to disallow Placer Dome to proceed with its plans to exploit the region.
Placer Dome is seeking an exemption from Indonesian Forestry Law 41/1999 that bans open-cut mining in protected forest areas. In total, 136 mining companies have applied for permits from the government to mine 11.4 million hectares of protected forest areas throughout Indonesia. The national government was expected to make a decision on July 3, but have thus far failed to do so. Throughout Indonesia, communities have held protests, and some 6000 citizens have sent postcards to the government supporting protected forest areas.
The Council of Dayak Meratus, representing 115 communities, issued a passionately worded letter of protest, signed on June 25th, 2003, urging President Megawati to reject Placer Dome's plans and to consider that mining activities would threaten their water sources, their sacred sites, and their livelihoods. "The presence and activities of the mining company in our lands since 1982 until the present have not been transparent or participatory, instead treating the community as mere bystanders." (Council of Dayak Meratus statement of opposition).
Placer Dome's (TSX, ASX:PDG) exploration property in South Kalimantan (Borneo) in Indonesia is held through Placer's wholly owned subsidiary, Southkal Resources. In the April AGM in Toronto, Placer Vice-President Keith Ferguson responded to criticism that the company deliberately withheld from shareholders the extent of community backlash to its operations, by falsely claiming that Placer has the support of the Meratus people. In the case of the Meratus region, it is clear that both local government and the community are strongly opposed to the mine.
The mining industry has applied enormous pressure to Indonesia, which is desperate for international investment after a disastrous economic performance the past year due to the SARS epidemic and the tragic terrorist attack in Bali. Mining companies including Placer have sought, and received lobbying assistance on the matter of allowing mining in Indonesia's protected areas from Canadian and Australian embassies in Jakarta.* "International mining companies and governments must respect our laws, and not pressure Indonesia to sacrifice its environment to satisfy foreign greed." says Siti Maimunah, of the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM).
A coalition of international civil society organizations, including JATAM, Australian Mineral Policy Institute (MPI), Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and MiningWatch Canada has called on the Indonesian government to uphold its environmental protection laws. "In Stakeholder Roundtable meetings held by Placer in Sydney in 2000, Placer management told us they were serious about sustainability. So stakeholders gave them three simple benchmarks of good faith: no riverine waste dumping; no exploration or mining in protected areas; and no mining without the consent of affected peoples," related Igor O'Neill of MPI. "Three years later and Placer shouldn't be surprised to receive an "F" on its sustainability test if it pushes through a mine in the Meratus protected area, against indigenous Dayak people's clearly stated opposition."
"It is utterly unacceptable that a Canadian company should try to subvert Indonesia's attempts to protect what is left of its natural forest habitat" says Dr. Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. "Placer Dome is well-known in Canada, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea for the extensive environmental damage the company has caused and clearly cannot be trusted as a steward of Indonesia's fragile ecosystems."
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Background information and a copy of the Dayak statement are available upon request.
* Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, Senate Hansard, www.aph.gov.au/hansard/hanssen.htm question number 716 and 717, 5 February 2003, page 8646.
For more information contact:
Catherine Coumans, Ph.D. of MiningWatch Canada - tel: 613-256-8331
Siti Maimunah, of JATAM - tel: +62 (0) 21 794 1559 / 791 81683
Igor O'Neill, of Mineral Policy Institute - tel: +62 81 286 12 286