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Indonesia set to suspend 2,500 mining licenses

Govt gets tough with firms over failure to meet environmental obligations, but activists want sterner measures

Indonesia set to suspend 2,500 mining licenses

A bulldozer is seen on its side after tumbling into an open-pit mine in Grasberg, one of the world's biggest gold and copper ventures, in Papua, in this file photo. Indonesia is set to suspend the operating licenses for more than 2,000 mines over environmental, tax-payment concerns. (Photo by AFP)

Indonesia is to suspend activities at more than 2,500 mines by the end of the year, a move environmentalists say does not go far enough.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, 2,509 mines of about 9,350 that operate across the country will have their permits suspended.

Senior ministry official Bambang Gatot Ariyono, said the mines have failed to fulfill obligations that include protecting the environment and paying taxes totaling US$3.3 billion. 

Ariyono said mining activities will stop on Dec. 31. 

"If the companies don’t fulfill their obligations the government will revoke their permits," Ariyono said.

Environmentalists said the government must be tougher with mining firms if it wants to save the environment from destruction.  

"Environmental damage is not solved by the government suspending mining operations. It is done by law enforcement and revoking all permits," said Merah Johansyah, coordinator of environmental group the Anti-Mining Advocacy Network.

"Many mines operate in protected and conservation forest areas," he said.

He said 44 percent of Indonesia’s land mass was controlled by mining companies. 

Some 3.7 million hectares of protected forest area are under the control of mining firms, he claimed. 

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Most mines — more than 3,000 — are digging for coal, he added. 

Dwi Sawung, from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, called for all mining to be stopped.

"Ecosystem damage has been severe and caused by deforestation and pollution as a result of coal, nickel, and gold mining, Sawung said. 

Sacred Heart Father Ansel Amo, who heads Merauke Archdiocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in Papua, said he appreciated the government move but needs to take a firmer stance on environmental issues.  

"Suspending permits should be a warning for other companies to pay attention to the environment," he said.

Firms affected by the license suspension refused to comment when contacted by ucanews.com. 

Meanwhile, Djoko Widajatmo, of the Indonesian Mining Association, said he supported the government move

"Companies need to fulfill their obligation to pay attention to the environment," he said.

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