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Priest slams mining 'irresponsibility'

Locals pledge implacable opposition to operations on Flores Island

Manganese mining has damaged Torong Besi in East Manggarai Manganese mining has damaged Torong Besi in East Manggarai
  • Markus Makur, Labuan Bajo
  • Indonesia
  • May 9, 2011
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A priest and leading environmentalist struck out yesterday at mining operations in Manggarai on Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara province, which they say have destroyed the lives of many people there.

Local people recently pledged to maintain constant opposition to mining, which they say has destroyed their land and divided society.

Divine Word Father Marselinus Agot, 60, a prominent environmentalist, said rejection of the industry is crucial as many locations in Manggarai Raya (the Greater Manggarai area)  have been destroyed by gold and manganese mining firms.

He said awareness of problems came "too late" but at least it showed there was vigilance and determination in preventing further catastrophes resulting from "irresponsible and careless mining".

“In some places the people do not even have water any more because there is no more forest. They have to travel by boat to get clean water,” said Father Agot.

Media reports have voiced fears that local government may be favouring mining applications in order to boost the economy, instead of tourism as previously planned.

The priest said that in West Manggarai some places had been completely destroyed, such as Batu Gosok, Tebedo, and Waning. Batu Gosok is a tourist destination close to the habitat of the Komodo dragon, but now is home to a 2,381ha gold mine.

An exploration permit for gold mining was issued to investors from China in 2008 and local government manipulated the data to get round a bylaw stipulating that Batu Gosok is a tourism area, according to activists.

Mining in Tebedo forest has decreased water supply to Labuan Bajo, the capital of West Manggarai, they say

“That’s why mining firms are never wanted here,” the priest said.

He urged the government to focus on developing tourism and agricultural products such as coffee, rice, sweet potatoes, vanilla and candlenut.

Another Flores Island priest, Father Mateus Batubara, said Torong Besi and Serise were other locations seriously damaged by mining in East Manggarai.

“Serise has seen the worst impact of mining. The site is completely deforested,and produces no water at all. Consequently, the people have to go to other places to fetch water by boat,” he said.

Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng is encouraging Catholics to care for the environment and plant more trees.

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