Residents of the Indonesian island of Wawonii believed they had won a long-running battle against mining companies with concessions on their land after authorities promised to revoke the permits in March.However, only nine of the 15 permits were scrapped, while at least one of the remaining companies continues offering to buy out residents and clearing land.Organizers of the earlier protests are now bracing for an even more intensive campaign, in the hope of drawing enough attention to their cause that the government steps in and cancels the remaining permits.One of the companies involved says the land belongs to the state and the villagers have no claim to it. ROKO-ROKO, Indonesia — Residents of this village on the island of Wawonii look like they’re preparing for a battle. Men with chainsaws guard four jerry-rigged huts they’ve built to protect their land against a mining company owned by one of Indonesia’s wealthiest families. Just four months earlier, locals were celebrating the government’s promise to expel firms like this one. In March, Lukman Abunawas, the deputy governor of Southeast Sulawesi province, faced an angry crowd outside his office in Kendari, the provincial capital, and announced that the government would revoke 15 land concessions for industrial-scale mining in Wawonii. It was the culmination of a series of increasingly brutal protests against the mining plans that saw thousands of farmers and fishermen pour into the coastal city, riding boats across the narrow channel separating Wawonii from the Sulawesi mainland to join the demonstrations. In the streets they were hit with tear gas and water cannons, and some were beaten by police. But their numbers kept building, driven by fears that mining would wreck the fragile ecosystem of an island smaller than New York City. “There were people crying, we were so happy and tired,” recalls Mando Maskuri, a 23-year-old Roko-Roko native and campus activist who helped organize the rallies in Kendari. Thinking they had won, most of the protesters went home after the deputy governor made his announcement. Their glee didn’t last long. In April, the provincial administration walked back its promise, with Governor Ali Mazi telling journalists he would revoke only nine of the permits — which had already expired anyway — while freezing the other six, all for mining nickel. Then in July, a video spread online of a woman in Roko-Roko screaming at an excavator plowing over her land. The machine belonged to one of the companies whose permits had supposedly been frozen by the state. The company, PT Gema Kreasi Perdana (GKP), is an arm of the Harita Group, a conglomerate owned by Indonesia’s super-rich Lim family, a major player in the country’s fast-growing nickel sector. After that, Mando, who had just graduated from university in Kendari, decided to put his plans for further study on hold. He returned to Wawonii in hopes of organizing another wave of action against the mining firms. He and other residents of the island who oppose the mining plans hope to draw enough attention to their cause that the government will have no choice but to cancel the permits outright. In July, Mongabay accompanied Mando to Roko-Roko, his home village, and traveled with him to other communities on the island, home to 34,000 people who mainly subsist on farming and fishing. It’s a five-hour boat ride from Kendari to Wawonii, and another hour by motorbike to the huts in Roko-Roko and the men with chainsaws. Taking shade under the cashew trees, they gaze at an excavator at work in a nearby ravine. “My father was buried here and since then we haven’t used the land, but it has been ours for a long time,” Marwah, the woman from the video, told Mongabay. Marwah stands on the spot where she confronted the excavator. Since then, residents have placed felled trees to mark the borders of her land. Image by Ian Morse for Mongabay. ‘A war among brothers’ As in much of Indonesia, villagers in Wawonii tend to lack documents to back their land claims, making it easy for the state to bring in corporate investors without their consent. In a landmark 2013 decision, the Constitutional Court annulled the state’s claim to indigenous peoples’ traditional forests. But the government has dragged its feet on implementing the ruling, even as AMAN, the national advocacy group for indigenous rights, pushes for the passage of a law governing how indigenous land claims can be formally recognized. Amid the uncertainty, Roko-Roko is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of villages across the country that has fallen into conflict with a natural resource firm. Despite Wawonii residents’ weak legal position, GKP is offering to compensate them with cash payments based on the crops they have planted. Cashew trees go for 900,000 rupiah ($64), clove trees for 750,000 rupiah ($54), locals say. Marwah doesn’t want to sell. “Money runs out, but land doesn’t,” the 43-year-old said. Since the incursion, she has slept every night in one of the huts with three other people.