Indonesia’s Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono is pushing a proposal to develop economic zones along the border between Malaysia and Kalimantan “as soon as possible” for national security reasons, reports the Jakarta Globe. The plan — which Juwono claims is to protect Indonesia’s sovereignty — would undermine the historic Heart of Borneo conservation initiative signed in 2007 by spurring massive expansion of logging, plantation development, and road construction in the biologically-rich region.
“We have to carry it out as soon as possible, but need other ministries to cooperate with us,” Juwono was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Globe.
He added that economic development would act as “a nonmilitary deterrent to any encroachment on Indonesian territory” — presumably by Malaysia or the tiny sultanate of Brunei. The last battle on the Malay-Indonesian border in Borneo was in 1966 when Indonesia was emerging as a nation.
Juwono has already drawn up a draft of the plan, which calls for plantations, new roads, and “economic zones” along the border, and is now looking for support from other government departments.
Click to enlarge. Courtesy of WWF
Theo L. Sambuaga, the chairman of House Defense Commission I, which oversees defense, said the plan could be funded by reallocation of state funds from the ministries of people’s welfare and public works.
“The government has allotted money for the Ministry of Education to build new schools. If it merged with the border establishment program, the school could be built there,” he was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Globe. “We have to guarantee the welfare of our citizens living near borders, so they will never think to favor or move to the neighboring countries.”
The minister’s decision to invoke national sovereignty to justify development of the remote, sparsely populated border region is not without precedent — the country’s transmigration program, which resettled outer islands in the archipelago with residents from Java until the 1990s, sought to quell separatist movements and gain access to resources, including timber, oil and gas, and minerals. Critics of transmigration say the program drove large-scale destruction of the environment and spurred ethnic conflict. The proposed plan will likely spark similar fears.
Click to enlarge. Courtesy of WWF
WWF, the environmental group that led the Heart of Borneo initiative, has called the region “the most important center of biological diversity in the world.” The tri-country initiative aims to 220,000 square kilometers (85,000 square miles) of tropical forests across Borneo, which is home to such endangered animals as orangutans, forest elephants and rhinos.
Borneo, the third largest island in the world, was once covered with dense rainforests. With swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove forests and a mountainous interior, much of the terrain was virtually impassable and unexplored by outsiders. Headhunters ruled the remote parts of the island until a century ago.
In the 1980s and 1990s Borneo underwent a remarkable transition. Its forests were leveled at a rate unparalleled in human history—perhaps 80 percent of the island’s primary forest was lost since 1980. Borneo’s rainforests went to industrialized countries like Japan and the United States in the form of garden furniture, paper pulp and chopsticks. Initially most of the timber was taken from the Malaysian part of the island in the northern states of Sabah and Sarawak. Later forests in the southern part of Borneo, an area belonging to Indonesia and known as Kalimantan, became the primary source for tropical timber. Today the forests of Borneo are but a shadow of those of legend. The Heart of Borneo initiative is seen as one of the last opportunities to conserve what remains of the island’s biodiversity.
- Markus Junianto Sihaloho. Plan to Develop Kalimantan Border Proposed. The Jakarta Globe 4 Feb 2009
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