Indonesian Catholics stand up to mining firm

Diocese in Flores vows 'massive' protests against Chinese mining firm wanting to dig up tourist area
Indonesian Catholics stand up to mining firm
In this 2010 file photo, Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng visits Serise, a mining spot in East Manggarai, regency. The bishop has vowed to oppose all mining projects in his area. (Photo supplied by the Franciscan Commission on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation)
Ruteng Diocese in Indonesia's predominantly Catholic island of Flores has vowed to step up its fight against the government's issuing of a gold mining license to a Chinese company allowing them to operate in a popular tourist destination.

Grand Nusantara Group won the license in 2016 from the East Nusa Tenggara provincial government to mine 2,831 hectares of a coastal area in Batu Gosok, Labuan Bajo. According to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry there are 300,000 tons of gold deposited there.

The company recently held a meeting in Labuan Bajo with locals and activists, a process that they must go through before starting to mine. However, locals walked out of the meeting and rejected the company's plan.

Acep, who goes by one name, a representative of Grand Nusantara Group, said they want to hold another meeting and hope their efforts will be welcomed.

However,  Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng, popular for his long-standing opposition to the project, urged the government to revoke the license. "The mining profits cannot pay for losses incurred by environmental degradation, destruction of biodiversity and harming the tourist attraction of Labuan Bajo."

"There is no way a tourist area should be mined. Mining will bring destruction and the pollution of the air, land and sea," he told on April 19.

He said the mining policy was contrary to the government's efforts to make Labuan Bajo a major tourist destination. They have already spent about US$225 million developing the industry in and around the small town.

"If the permit is not revoked, the church will step up encouraging and mobilizing the whole community to act," he added.

Father Marthen Jenarut, director of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in Ruteng Diocese said mining would be "a disaster [and] it would not help the local community, the majority of whom are farmers and fishermen."

He said they will ask for a dialogue with the government in the near future. "If there is a communication deadlock we will hold a massive demonstration," he said.

Doni Parera, who lives in Labuan Bajo said the government must not prioritize money but think about the future of the environment and the local community.

"Mines can quickly bring in money, however, those who will suffer the consequences forever are us, our children and our grandchildren," he said.

It is not the first time a mining firm has looked at Labuan Bajo. In 2009 the local government issued a permit which was revoked a year later after the church and the community occupied the mine site.

The Catholic Church has been helping locals in their fight since then. In 2010, Bishop Leteng celebrated Mass at a mining spot, as a sign of the church's decision to stand with local people.

Their campaigns were successful and stopped mining companies, Aditya Bumi Pertambangan from operating in Tumbak village, East Manggarai district, and Manggarai Manganese from operating in Legurlai village, both in 2014. 

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Based on the data from energy and mineral resources ministry, west Flores has mineral gold, silver, copper, iron ore, lead and manganese deposits.

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