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Environmentalists urge scrapping of Borneo coal project
by Staff Writers
Jakarta (UPI) Nov 7, 2013

Malaysian police arrest tribespeople protesting dam
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Nov 07, 2013 - Malaysian police on Thursday arrested eight tribespeople blocking access to a dam which they say will displace them from their lands, amid increasing protests on Borneo island.

Police arrested the eight Penans including two teenagers, took down banners and dismantled wooden barriers on the road to the remote $1.3 billion Murum dam in Sarawak state, said activist Raymond Abin.

Abin, an official with the NGO Save Sarawak's Rivers Network, said some 100 other Penans remained at the site to continue the blockade.

"The authorities just find that this is the only way to deal with the people -- refusing to deal with their demands," Abin told AFP. "The easy way is to arrest them in order to intimidate and threaten them."

A local police official confirmed eight were in custody but declined to comment further. Abin said the Penans were not told the reason for their arrest.

The Penans set up the blockade in September to demand 500,000 ringgit ($157,000) for the loss of their land, property and livelihood.

The dam is expected to flood 245 square kilometres (95 square miles) and cause 1,500 Penan and 80 Kenyah natives to lose their homes.

Sarawak Energy said the 944-megawatt dam began filling in late September and would be completed within 14 months.

It added that relocation of affected natives was set to be completed by year-end and insisted that displaced villagers were being compensated fairly.

The company dismissed the protest as "instigated" by activists.

The Murum dam is one of a series of hydroelectric facilities planned by the Sarawak state government as it pushes economic development in one of Malaysia's poorest states.

But the building spree in the resource-rich state along the powerful jungle rivers has been dogged by controversy.

Activists allege massive corruption, while natives complain it has flooded rainforests and uprooted tens of thousands of people.

Hundreds of Malaysian tribespeople have also blockaded the construction site of the nearby Baram dam.

While the Baram dam is expected to generate 1,200 megawatts of power, activists claim it will flood 400 square kilometres of rainforest (154 square miles) and displace 20,000 tribespeople.

Sarawak's longtime chief minister Taib Mahmud has faced mounting accusations of enriching himself and cronies through a stranglehold on the state's economy, charges which he denies.

Environmentalists are calling for mining giant BHP Billiton to abandon coal mining in Indonesia's central Kalimantan province, also known as Borneo.

At issue is the IndoMet coal project, a joint venture between BHP Billiton and Adaro Energy, Indonesia's second largest producer of thermal coal. BHP Billiton owns 75 percent of the project, with the remaining 25 percent held by Adaro.

IndoMet covers 865,000 acres in the Borneo rainforest and is believed to have coal reserves of more than 774 million tons, reports The Guardian newspaper. The first stage of IndoMet's development is a small operation called Haju.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth says IndoMet will cause mass deforestation and damage the rivers of the upper Barito basin.

"These are sensitive forests full of biodiversity," Nick McClean, the group's climate justice spokesman told The Guardian. "There has been some logging of the lowland areas in the past but much of the area hasn't been scientifically surveyed. We could lose species we don't know anything about," he said.

The region is inhabited by remote communities and the endangered orangutan.

"We do know that river systems absolutely will be impacted. It's alarming to think that BHP will be clearing an area simply to export coal that may not have a future."

Hendrik Siregar, Coordinator of The Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network, known as JATAM, in a news release last month said, "BHP Billiton, backed by UK shareholders and investors, tells the world that it is 'resourcing the future.' Local communities in Central Kalimantan are telling us that coal mining is destroying their future."

In a July blog post entitled "What is BHP up to in Indonesia?" Bob Burton, director of Australian environmental organization The Sunrise Group wrote that the mining giant "is keeping very quiet" about its involvement in IndoMet.

Little information on the project was disclosed in the company's presentation to analysts in June, he noted.

In response to an email inquiry, BHP Billiton told Burton that the Haju mine project would cost the company $80 million and would produce one million tons of coal a year from early 2014. However, the company did not respond when asked whether an environmental impact assessment had been undertaken.

A spokeswoman for BHP told the Guardian that the environmental impact of further mining would be fully assessed.

"Our plans do not include mining in any protection forest areas in central Kalimantan, and any development in central and east Kalimantan will be subject to detailed environmental and social impact assessments, feasibility studies and will require all appropriate permits to be in place before activities commence," the spokeswoman said.


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