Religious leaders, villagers and activists, protesting Jan. 28 against manganese mining activities, confront police in front of the district head office in South Central Timor district, East Nusa Tenggara. (Photo supplied)
Religious leaders were among hundreds of local people that recently staged a two-day protest against a manganese mining company in South Central Timor district of East Nusa Tenggara province, urging the local government to revoke the company's mining permit.
The company PT Soe Makmur Resources obtained the permit from Gov. Frans Lebu Raya in 2008. Based on the permit, it is allowed to conduct mining activities on 4,555 hectares of land covering six villages in two sub-districts.
On Jan. 28, religious leaders joined about 100 villagers and activists in a protest held in front of the district head office and police headquarters. On Jan. 27, they staged a similar rally in the mining site in Supul village under tight police security.
"The company's existence threatens the local people's source of life," Franciscan Father Yohanes Kristoforus Tara from the Franciscan-run Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Timor told ucanews.com on Jan. 28.
He said the company's mining activities have dried up a number of springs. Around 6,000 hectares of rice fields in Oebelo village will likely face the same situation.
"The company's waste also threatens the local people's health," he said, adding that some villagers have started to suffer skin irritations due to polluted water.
Father Tara acknowledged that Pope Francis' encyclical, "Laudato si'," motivated him to back the protests.
"We fight for weak people becoming victims and to save the earth," he said.
The Rev. Yos Manu from the Protestant Evangelical Church in Timor said that the company has divided his congregation.
"Besides the ecological impact, the company also has such a massive social impact. Our congregation gets divided into two groups: supporters and protesters," he told ucanews.com.
Therefore, he will continue fighting against the company, he said.
A villager, Soleman Nesimnasi, lost four hectares of land in Supul village because of the company's concession.
"I never knew that the company's permit covers my land. They suddenly grabbed my land after obtaining the permit," he said.
A four-year court case concluded with a finding that the company should return his land.
"But last year the company's representatives, along with some soldiers, came to me and said that I didn't have right to use my land," he told ucanews.com.
They forced him to accept compensation, offering him 100,000 rupiah (US$7) a month for one hectare of land, he said.
Yustinus Darma of the Indonesian Environment Forum acknowledged that mining companies often asked policemen and soldiers for help when they had problems with local people.
"It's a general pattern. It aims at making local people afraid and at pushing them so that they want to give their land to the companies," he told ucanews.com.