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NGO sues Aceh official over cement factory permit in Leuser Ecosystem

Sumatran elephants in Indonesia's Leuser Ecosystem, one of the region's last great swaths of intact rainforest. Rapid oil palm expansion is eating away at the creatures' habitat and driving them into increased conflict with humans. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

  • Walhi filed the lawsuit against the head of Aceh Tamiang district on Thursday.
  • The NGO alleges that the permit violates several regulations.
  • Aceh Tamiang is already experiencing water problems which Walhi says the factory would make worse.

An NGO is suing an Indonesian district head for permitting a cement factory to operate in the nationally protected Leuser Ecosystem, one of Southeast Asia’s last great swaths of intact rainforest.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) filed the lawsuit against Aceh Tamiang district head Hamdan Sati at the Banda Aceh Administrative Court on Thursday.

The company in question is PT Tripa Semen Aceh. It holds a license to establish a factory and a mine on 2,549 hectares of land in Kaloy village, in Aceh Tamiang’s Tamiang Hulu subdistrict.

Walhi alleges that the license violates a number of laws and ministerial decrees. These include the 2015 Aceh Government Law, which states that the management of the Leuser Ecosystem must adhere to certain principles of sustainable use, and a 2014 energy ministry decree on mining.

Aceh Tamiang, in Indonesia's Aceh province. Image courtesy of Ewesewes/Wikimedia Commons
Aceh Tamiang, in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Image courtesy of Ewesewes/Wikimedia Commons

The NGO further contends that the company will exacerbate Aceh Tamiang’s water problems. Oil palm plantations have been established in water catchment areas in such a way as to cause both flooding, which is the result of upstream deforestation, and water scarcity. In 2006, the district was hit with a deluge so devastating it was termed a “second tsunami,” after the disaster that struck Aceh province in 2004.

Tamiang Hulu subdistrict is already home to oil palm plantations covering more than 7,400 hectares, controlled by six companies, according to Walhi. So too is Aceh Tamiang rife with illegal plantations.

“If the cement firm is allowed to operate, the community’s clean water will be lost, drained not just by oil palm plantations but also by the cement plant,” Walhi Aceh advocacy chief Muhammad Nasir said.

Hamdan Sati, the head of Aceh Tamiang regency, cuts down an oil palm tree on an illegal plantation in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Forum Konservasi Leuser
Aceh Tamiang head Hamdan Sati fells an oil palm tree on an illegal plantation in the district in 2015. Photo courtesy of Forum Konservasi Leuser

Conserving Leuser, a nationally protected area, has not always had the support of the Aceh provincial officials, which enjoys special autonomy in the wake of a decades-long separatist war that ended in 2005. In 2013, the Aceh government passed a zoning plan that made no mention of Leuser, prompting a lawsuit filed by local civil society and indigenous groups. The EU has also lobbied the Aceh administration to revise the plan.

Leuser is the only place on earth where Sumatran tigers, orangutans, rhinos and elephants coexist in the wild. It became an international story in April when Hollywood actor and environmental advocate Leonardo DiCaprio visited the forest there, prompting an outcry from some Indonesian officials who threatened to deport him.


Junaidi Hanafiah. “Keluarkan Izin di Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, Bupati Aceh Tamiang Digugat.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 4 August 2016.

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