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Church in Indonesia maps out future for indigenous Papuans

New website aims for government to protect tribal land from growth of concessions for mining and palm plantations

Church in Indonesia maps out future for indigenous Papuans

A signpost written by the Mahuze community reads "This land belongs to Mahuze people, not for palm plantations." (Photo supplied)

The Catholic Church in Papua province and human rights groups have mapped the territories of indigenous people to encourage the Indonesian government to protect their environment.

The coalition launched the matapapua.org website on Feb. 5 with maps of territories and locations that have become concession areas for mining and palm plantations.

Sacred Heart Father Anselmus Amo, who heads Merauke Archdiocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, said they wanted the government to recognize indigenous people's land so as not to issue permits that engulfed their environment.

"The indigenous people and rich natural resources in Papua are not merely an object to be drained for the sake of the economy alone, whether in the name of development or the greed of large investors," Father Amo told ucanews.com.

He said the involvement of the archdiocese and dioceses in Papua in this program was part of a commitment to "defend indigenous people against the onslaught of investors entering through the government and escorted by security forces, both army and police."

In Merauke,Father Amo said, the Marind, Mandobo, Yei and Auyu tribal communities are threatened by the activities of palm oil companies.

"Their food and medicinal plants, as well as animals and plants that they normally consume, are also threatened," he said. "Water is also polluted. The big floods are now threatening because the forest is gone."

Franky Yafet Leonard, executive director of Pusaka, an NGO focusing on indigenous rights, said many concessions in Papua overlapped indigenous people's territories and did not involve them in the issuance of permits.

This, Leonard said, violates the 2011 Papua special autonomy law stating that the provision of customary land for any purpose must go through consultation with indigenous peoples.

"However, the government and corporations annex and seize land without the consent of indigenous people," he said.

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Leonard said mining concessions occupy an area of 9 million hectares, followed by logging concessions at 7 million hectares and plantations at 2.1 million hectares.

In 2017, he said, the government issued new licenses for plantations covering 53,806 hectares and mining covering 63,858 hectares.

The government also transferred 2,318 hectares of protected forest on Botak Mountain, South Manokwari, into a production forest.

"This decision allegedly accommodates the interests of one of the sand mining companies," Leonard said.

Leonard said he hoped the mapping program would make the government more careful about issuing permits.

Bambang Supriyanyo, general director of the social forestry and environmental partnership at the Environment Ministry, welcomed the initiative.

"In April, we will discuss the issue of customary forests in several provinces including Papua in order to protect indigenous people," he said. 

"The mapping results will be one of our references."

Charles Tawaru, an indigenous Papuan who is also active in Papua Forest Watch, wants the government to legitimize the territories under the authority of indigenous communities.

"It's important as this will be used as guideline. When there is an attempt to annex indigenous people's land, we will have something to say," he said.

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