KOTABARU, Indonesia - The government and Dayak
villagers have called in fresh troops as tension
intensifies over disputed mining operations on Sebuku,
an island of some 3,000 residents in central
Government forces added 60 soldiers to their garrison
on the island earlier this week, bringing the
government troop total to 190. The move came after 100
Dayak warriors arrived, bringing their total to 300.
Government forces have been posted to ensure continued
operations by PT Bahana Cakrawala Sebuku (BCS), a
majority Australian-owned mining company. The Dayak
say their warriors protect villagers from unwarranted,
random attacks by the soldiers.
Locals accuse BCS of paying too little for their land
and of causing environmental destruction in fragile
ecosystems and on land the villagers consider sacred.
The company says it has honoured the terms of
compensation plans agreed with the villagers.
Since early February, hundreds of Sebuku residents
have blocked access to mining areas. This is the third
time they have staged such protests since mining
operations began in 1995. Since then, local farms,
forests and mountains have been converted into mines,
often with the use of explosives.
Residents have demanded that BCS suspend operations
until it can guarantee no further environmental
destruction. Instead, they say, operations and new
exploration have increased and encroached on protected
areas and their private property.
Earlier this month, after troops clamped down against
protesters, villagers toughened their stance: They now
want the company to completely halt all operations
until it fulfils not only their environmental but also
their financial demands.
''Our patience has run out. All understanding,
tolerance, and peaceful means are not useful. They
give us no choice but firming our attitude. We reject
mining,'' said Abidin, an elder of the Sebuku people.
''If they resort to use of force, we will fight back.
That is the only way now to defend this land of
ours,'' he added.
The villagers' campaign is aided by an alliance of
activist groups including the Water Foundation, the
Institute for Traditional Community Empowerment
(LPMA), the Indonesian Forum on the Environment
(Walhi), the Indonesia Green Sky Foundation (YCHI),
and the anti-mining network Jatam.
Alliance spokesman Zufri, who like many Indonesians
uses only one name, urged the police and the military
not to interfere in the dispute. ''Instead, the local
people deserve security and protection from the police
and the military. We remind them that they are there
to serve the society, not this selfish company,''
Berry Nahdian Furqon, chairman of Walhi's South
Kalimantan branch, said that villagers' hostility to
the mining company had intensified and that he hoped
bloodshed could be avoided.
''None of us want bloodshed. If the company and the
security insist in going ahead with this mining
business without paying respect to people's rights,
then the worst will certainly come. We really don't
want it,'' he said.
Berry, who has tracked the conflict since it began,
said tension was the highest he had seen.
Villagers, he said, had ''come to the conclusion that
this is not about fair compensation or environmental
impact anymore. It is about the presence of the mining
company. Their stand is firmed now, and they don't
want the mining company on their land,'' Berry said.
Muhammad Safaruddin, a fisherman, said mining had hit
even the livelihoods of people who worked the sea, not
the land. ''They dump their waste directly into the
beach area through the river, causing fish along the
river and seashore to disappear. Now we have to go far
out into the sea to get only a handful of fish,'' he
Abidin, a village elder, said villagers were prepared
for further economic setbacks but drew the line at
allowing the mining company to continue. ''Gone are
the days of good life on this land of ours. But we
don't want the whole life gone,'' he said. ''This is
the only reason why we are fighting now, because we
still have this life.''
Villagers said that BCS paid only 5,000 rupiah (60
cents) for each square metre of the land it acquired
from locals, whereas the customary rate was 50,000
rupiah (six dollars).
But Hasbiyadhi Munawir, a BCS lawyer, said the rate
had been set in agreement with local villagers.
Indonesian law does not spell out a specific rate for
compensation but dictates that the rate be based on
negotiations between landowners and buyers or
Munawir said that in addition to paying agreed-upon
rates, the company has built roads to open remote
places on the island.
''Now villages are no longer isolated. We are building
infrastructure and helping develop the community,'' he
BCS received top community development honours from
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri earlier
Mining ministry data show that Sebuku has produced 10
tonnes of coal, mainly for export, and that it has
remaining coal deposits of around 14 tonnes. The
island has also huge copper and iron deposits.
BCS' original concession area for coal mining was
30,000 hectares but in the past few years this has
expanded, going into protected forest areas and local