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Under pressure over pollution complaints, Aceh calls for closure of gold mines

Illegal gold mining operation in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Junaidi Hanafi.

Illegal gold mining operation in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Junaidi Hanafi.

In the wake of massive fish die-offs and repeated calls from environmental groups to do more than just talk about the issue, the government of Aceh has called for the closure of all illegal gold mines throughout the province. Several members of the Regional Leadership Coordination Forum (Fokorpimda)—including the Governor and Police Chief, as well as military, political and religious leaders—signed a written appeal for illegal miners to immediately stop their operations.

The appeal states that all procurement and distribution of mercury and cyanide (chemicals often used in illegal gold mining operations) must follow the legal provisions outlined in trade regulation 44/M-DAG/PER/9/2009.

The statement reads in part: “To anyone involved in the procurement, storage, distribution, sale, or purchase and/or use of mercury or cyanide: stop immediately. To the regional and city governments of Aceh: you must monitor, supervise, and take action against the procurement, storage, sale and buying of dangerous materials and non-permitted mining activities to the extent of your authority.”

Further, the call to action indicates that those who do not head the warnings in the appeal will face decisive action in accordance with applicable laws.

The head of the Aceh’s public relations department, Murthalamuddin, said that the governor has been discussing the issue of illegal mining with local officials for quite some time. Meanwhile, he said that the government of Aceh, in cooperation with Universitas Syiah Kuala (Unsyiah), is researching alternative mining practices that do not use mercury and cyanide. Once these are found, the public will be invited to process gold using environmentally friendly materials that are not harmful to health or the environment.

Further, Murthalamuddin reiterated: “The Government of Aceh is also evaluating all mining permits, if there is a problem [with a legal mining operation], its license will be revoked.”

This is not the first time the government has spoken out against illegal mining, however. Local environmental groups have been repeatedly frustrated by the lack of action often following such sweeping statements of intent.

Meanwhile, gold miners are concerned by this new appeal, maintaining that they are not responsible for the fish kills. Instead, they place the blame on sulfur emitted by a nearby active volcano, and claim that the rivers in which the dead fish were found do not even have mines on them.

The Governor’s office has ordered an investigation into the cause of mass fish kills in rivers in Pidie and Aceh Jaya regencies. The findings have not yet been publicly released.

SOURCE: Junaidi Hanafi. Pemerintah Aceh akan Tutup Tambang Ilegal. Mongabay-Indonesia. August 19, 2014

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