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Indonesian clerics turn to lawmakers in Flores mine fight

Priests, activists urge MPs to put livelihoods before profit for mining, cement companies

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Indonesian clerics turn to lawmakers in Flores mine fight

Students in Jakarta carry a replica of a coffin, symbolizing the death of the government's conscience, during a protest on June 29 against a planned limestone quarry and cement factory on Catholic-majority Flores island. (Photo supplied)

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Priests and laymen in Indonesia are seeking the support of the nation’s lawmakers in fighting the granting of licenses for mining and cement companies on the Catholic-majority island of Flores in East Nusa Tenggara province.

They urged a group of parliamentarians at a July 1 meeting to oppose a government plan to grant a concession for a limestone quarry and cement factory covering more than 500 hectares in Lengko Lolok and Luwuk, two villages in the province’s East Manggarai district.

Among those at the meeting was Father Alsis Goa Wonga, director of the Franciscans’ Commission on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

The priest said they turned to the legislators because, despite fierce opposition by residents and churchmen, local authorities persisted in backing the development.

"If a mining permit is granted, a major disaster would happen as the area includes a huge reservoir,” he told UCA News.

He said the clerics appealed to the lawmakers to fight with them against the "systematic destruction of livelihoods of local people" who have been dependent on agriculture for years.

Rikard Rahmat, from the Manggarai Raya Diaspora group, said lawmakers were supposed to think about the future of the environment, not about easy money.

"We ask them to feel the bitterness of many people if the area is exploited,” he said.

Among the lawmakers were Catholics Yohanis Fransiskus Lema and Andreas Hugo Parera, both from East Nusa Tenggara province.

Lema left the meeting saying he would back the priests and activists. "The government should focus on agriculture, livestock, and tourism as the prime movers of the people's economy," he said,

Governor Victor Bungtilu Laiskodat says he backs the granting of concessions to a mining firm and cement company, although during a meeting with Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng on June 23 he said he respected the Church’s stance against mining and would look into its objections.

Student protests against Laiskodat’s support for the developments took place in Jakarta and Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara province, on June 29.

Adeodatus Syukur, a student coordinator in Kupang, said Laiskodat was mocking the Church and the community. "He lied to the bishop that he would review the permit," he said. “He didn’t.” 

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