Anger after Indonesia agrees to pave paradise for coal road project

A camera trap photo shows a Sumatran tiger roaming the Harapan forest in South Sumatra, where the government has allowed a mining contractor company to build a road, which could damage the sensitive ecosystem and threaten the critically endangered species. (Photo courtesy: Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia)
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Updated 16 July 2020

Anger after Indonesia agrees to pave paradise for coal road project

  • Experts say initiative puts habitats of endangered Sumatran tigers at risk

JAKARTA: Conservationists on Tuesday slammed a decision by the Indonesian government to allow a mining contractor company to build a road through a restoration forest in South Sumatra.

Critics claim the project could damage the sensitive ecosystem and threaten the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, the only tiger subspecies left in the country after two other subspecies  became extinct in Java and Bali.

“This is contradictory to the government’s said commitment to restore forests and rehabilitate the ecosystem, that could serve as the natural habitat for wild species and a top predator such as the Sumatran tiger,” Yoan Dinata, a member of Forum Harimau Kita (Our Tiger Forum), in Jambi, told Arab News.

Once completed, the road would cut across the Harapan rainforest, a 98,555-hectare wildlife haven in South Sumatra and Jambi provinces managed by Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (REKI) as the concession holder.

The forest is the first ecosystem restoration concession in Indonesia based on a collaboration led by Burung Indonesia, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and BirdLife International.

Dinata said the existing road network built by companies managing various concessions in nearby industrial forests had already put a barrier between conservation areas inhabited by tigers.

Opening the forest for a road project could escalate human-tiger conflicts in Sumatra, he added, as tigers often entered human settlements in search of food as a result of deforestation and habitat loss.

“Forest restoration is also aimed to increase the tiger’s population. If their natural habitat is shrinking, they would not be able to breed, and we would not be able to increase their population.”

There were at least 20 tigers in the Harapan forest based on a 2015 research, according to REKI data. But camera traps installed inside the forest, which represents 20 percent of the remaining lowland forest in Sumatra, have captured tiger sightings over the years. 

Hospita Yulima, REKI's spokeswoman, told Arab News that the company so far never received formal notification from the Forestry Ministry that they had permitted the coal transport company to build a road that cuts through their concession, allowing the company to use 424 hectares of land in the forest, on which some parts of the coal road project would be constructed. 

The designated areas are part of the Asian elephants’ track and the tigers’ home roaming range. 

“If this permit is really issued, it is difficult for us to say that the forestry ministry supports the Harapan forest restoration.” 

Arab News tried to contact the ministry for confirmation but failed to receive a response in time. Meanwhile, Diki Kurniawan, a director at the Jambi chapter of the Environmental Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHL) told Arab News that activists had urged the company to use an existing road network which goes around the forest or has been constructed by other firms in the area. 

“They could negotiate with those companies to use the road, instead of opening the forest just to construct their own road,” he said. The forest is also home to an indigenous, semi-nomad community, the Batin Sembilan, who have made the forest their home for centuries.  

Although some members of the community have settled in permanent dwellings inside the forest, they still rely on the forest for their livelihood by harvesting non-wood produce such as honey, resin gum, or rattan. Kurniawan said the YLBHL and 36 other civil society organizations that formed a coalition called South Sumatra-Jambi Anti Forest Destruction to reject the plan is mulling over assisting the indigenous tribe – as the party directly impacted by the project – to challenge the ministry’s decision through a legal channel. 

“The road project could open access to poachers and illegal logging. We have seen from previous practices that companies that open the forests could not prevent the forest from the devastating impact,” Kurniawan said.


Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

Updated 11 min 13 sec ago

Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

  • Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails
  • The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police

MINSK, Belarus: Belarusian authorities have released dozens of people detained amid demonstrations contesting the results of the presidential election, in an attempt to assuage public anger against a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests.
Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails. In the early morning, volunteers also saw at least 119 detainees being released in the сity of Zhodino just northeast of the Belarusian capital. Ambulances arrived to carry those who apparently were unable to walk on their own.
The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police. “I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who happened to be nearby and failed to back off quickly enough,” Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said late Thursday.
The apologies and the release of detainees follow five days of massive protests, in which crowds of demonstrators swarmed the streets to contest the vote results and demand an end to the 26-year rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. On Thursday, thousands of workers rallied outside industrial plants to denounce the police crackdown and push for a recount of Sunday’s vote.
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in the clampdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his top opposition challenger only 10%. Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.
On Thursday, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity” in several areas of the capital, Minsk. Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of detained loved ones.
The human chains grew throughout the day, filling Minsk’s main central squares and avenues and spreading to numerous other cities as motorists honked in support. In Minsk and several other cities, thousands of factory workers also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge to the government. Protesters were shouting “Go away!” to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
Amid growing public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms and insignia in the trash. Several popular anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit.
The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders. The top opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, suddenly emerged Tuesday in neighboring Lithuania and called on her supporters to stop protests in a video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left. The 37-year-old former teacher had joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May.
The massive protests against election results and police brutality have been an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” for his relentless crackdown on dissent. The scope and ferocity of the police clampdown were remarkable even for Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule, triggering widespread anger.
After dismissing protesters as mostly ex-convicts and unemployed, the authoritarian leader kept silent Thursday as the demonstrations spread quickly. Some reports said he was preparing an address to the nation.
A protester died Monday in Minsk when, according to the Interior Ministry, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Media reports challenged the ministry’s claim, alleging that he was killed by police. The place where he died quickly turned into a pilgrimage site, with hundreds of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers there.
The authorities said that a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear.
The brutal suppression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.
European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the 27-nation bloc would “increase the pressure” on Belarus.