Kamoro People Resist Freeport Smelter Development on their Ancestral Land

warga kamoro di sungai rusak tailings freeportPT Freeport Indonesia is planning to build a smelter in Mimika, in Papua, but this plan has met with opposition from the Kamoro indigenous people because their ancestral land will become even more polluted by the company’s waste. Their environment has already been destroyed by mine tailings from Freeport’s ongoing operation.

And the plans are not only to build a smelter but also a fertilizer plant, cement factory, power station and industrial fishing operation It would be a major industrial zone.

“The indigenous people have lived with an extraordinary trauma for decades. Mine tailings have spread over thousands of hectares, leaving the land destroyed. The river area has been polluted to the point that five villages have been moved to other areas”, said John Nakiaya, a representative of the Kamoro Indigenous Consultative Organisation (LEMASKO) in Jakarta on Saturday (6/6/15)

He said that Freeport’s mine waste has devastated river estuaries which have become much more shallow. Many fish are dead, or their meat contains toxins. Thousands of hectares of mangroves haave been destroyeed “We are forced to consume fish and other marine life which is actually polluted by the mine tailings”.

He said that there no-one from the government or the company ever came and explained their plans to build a smelter. That means that there has not been any community involvement in putting together plans.

“Many of the Kamoro indigenous people are getting sick because of decades of exposure to mine waste. The rate of miscarriage amongst pregnant women has increased. The same goes for babies born with disabilities”, he said.

He urged the government to cancel their plan to build a smelter. “Why do they keep on building on Kamoro land, which has suffered for decades because of the tailings from Freeport?”

The Kamoro people’s ancestral land is a coastal area rich in mangroves, sago palms and fish. The main way they sustain themselves is through gathering products of these ecosystems. If the factory development goes ahead it will represent a serious threat to their livelihood.

Currently, he says the people have held a sasi ritual. This ritual is to show that the land, mangrove forest and coastal areas must not be disturbed.

Muhnur Satyahaprabu, a lawyer with the Public Interest Lawyers Network stated that the case of the Kamoro people proves that the government does not understand how to protect indigenous peoples.

“In all sorts of places from Aceh to Papua, the same problems keep on occurring. It proves that the government does not understand its obligation to protect the indigenous people”.

The government, he said, imposes their own preferred development model. However, the number of agrarian and environmental conflicts keep increasing, year after year. The government has never taken up this as a matter which needs evaluation, in order to audit development systems in different areas.

“In all kinds of development projects, they always tell communities their situation will improve because they will be given jobs. But wherever you look, communities near mines are never rich. They are poor. This must become an argument for stopping developments such as this.

Actually, Papua’s natural environment is in good condition. It should really be protected and defended.

Walhi’s national campaign manager Edo Rakhman said that coastal mangroves must be protected because of their ecological function. The presidential instructions establishing a moratorium on permits for primary forest and peatland also stipulate that this area cannot be used except for study, education and conservation.

“I think because of this background situation it makes a lot of sense for the indigenous people to reject this development. It is the source of their livelihood. The government can’t just decide to change ecosystems into industrial zones like that”.

He said that Walhi was pushing for the government to carry out an environmental audit on the whole process surrounding Freeport to date. “From the point of view of supporting downstream industry, it is true a smelter must be built. But it doesn’t have to violate and ignore indigenous people’s rights”.

The government, he said, must ensure that development in Papua is grounded in local and cultural characteristics. “Don’t just base it on what global industry needs or asks for. Don’t just build new infrastructure without thinking about people’s needs. I think that the Papuan people surely want progress but it has to be in line with their wishes”.

Iwan Nurdin, the General Secretary of the Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPU) expressed a similar sentiment. He said that at first, building a smelter sounds like a good idea. However, it will adversely affect the Kamoro people
“They have always lived from gathering food. They own the largest area of mangrove forest in Asia. Their lives depend on fish and sago palms. But mining waste has caused problems for them for years.”

With the tailing problem still unresolved, now their land is threatened by this smelter construction. “That’s something which in truth will bring them no benefit”.

Iwan suggested that the government should study their plans and look for more suitable place. “Don’t just look in places where it might be convenient but would cause problems for many people. That’s Jakarta’s version of development for Papua. In Timika they want to build a ‘mall’ of industry. There’s oil palm, fertilizer, a power station, the Freeport smelter, the port and so on”.

Source: Mongabay Indonesia http://www.mongabay.co.id/2015/06/09/suku-kamoro-tolak-pembangunan-smelter-freeport-di-wilayah-adat-mereka/


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