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Locals revolt against gold miner in Sulawesi

Buyat Bay ‘solidarity front’ threatens gold miner with legal action

A Boltim Primanusa Resources excavator in Garini forest near Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi. Photo: United Buyat Solidarity Front

Residents of Indonesia’s Buyat Bay and a national legal aid institute are preparing a case against a gold miner they say began operating in secret without locals’ consent.

They also accuse the company, Boltim Primanusa Resources, of failing to acquire the proper licenses, clearing forest in a protected area and damaging the environment.

Meanwhile Boltim Primanusa’s owner, a politician named Jackson Kumaat who intends to run for governor of North Sulawesi, accuses the naysayers with extorting him and says he plans to file charges of his own.

On March 17, 14 representatives of the United Buyat Solidarity Front claiming to represent 800 people held a press conference at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation’s (YLBHI) office in Manado, the provincial capital, at which they outlined their grievances with Jackson’s company.

They said they only learned about Boltim Primanusa’s permit after they came across its bulldozers in the field.

“We rejected the company in August 2014,” Buyat resident Edy Sengkey said. “After that we started monitoring the situation. Then suddenly at the location, we found an excavator and saw trees being cut down.”

In response to a complaint from Buyat, the YLBHI inquired about Boltim Primanusa with the regent of East Bolaang Mongondow, who wrote back in a letter that the company had obtained a permit to explore for minerals.

“The company never did socialization with the people,” Edi said. “We are trying to find out about that permit. If it’s an exploration permit, why are they demolishing the forest?”

The area, Edi added, is a “protected forest” – an Environment and Forestry Ministry designation in which open-pit mining is prohibited – and surrounded by volatile rivers. He expressed worry that land clearing could cause a disaster as in 1991, when a major flood swept away 12 homes.

Hendra Baramuli, director of the YLBHI’s Manado branch, said he first set about engaging the East Bolaang Mongondow government in January and that the authorities had been slow to follow up.

“There’s been no response for a month,” he said. “If they neglect this, we’ll take it to the courts.”

CAPTIONMining workers’ tents in Garini forest. Photo: United Buyat Solidarity Front


In a phone conversation with Mongabay, Jackson denied the accusations. He said the area in question was designated as “production forest,” not protected forest.

He also said his company had collected signatures of support from 800 locals, including six village chiefs, and called the United Buyat Solidarity Front’s integrity into question, suggesting the 14 representatives were probably jealous of those working for his company.

“It’s not possible for everyone to work,” said Jackson, who also chairs the Indonesian National Youth Council’s (KNPI) North Sulawesi branch. “It has to be based on their qualifications. There are a lot of people working for me.”

In December last year, he alleged, the 14 Buyat residents met him in Jakarta and demanded Rp200 million ($15,300) in “compensation” and an additional Rp80 million for travel expenses. After that, he said, he received many requests for money. Now he plans to file a police report. He said he has evidence of a bank transfer as proof.

“If their movement is pure I feel very sorry for them,” he said. “A lot of pity, if they are pure.”

Buyat Bay caught the spotlight in the 2000s when civil and criminal charges were lodged against a subsidiary of US-based Newmont Mining Corporation, accused of pumping unsafe levels of arsenic and mercury waste into the water and causing widespread disease.

The Environment Ministry sued Newmont for $133 million, but the government later decided to pursue a settlement. A negotiating team led by then-Coordinating Economics Minister Aburizal Bakrie reached an agreement for $30 million. The company’s top executive in Indonesia, Richard Ness, was cleared in a criminal case.

Produced in English by Philip Jacobson.





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