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Indonesian diocese takes up fight for 'cheated' villagers

Mining and quarry firms will evict communities on Flores after duping them into selling land, church people claim

Indonesian diocese takes up fight for 'cheated' villagers

People in Lingko Lolok village in East Manggarai district of East Nusa Tenggara province face eviction if a cement company and limestone quarry begin operations in and around their village. (Photo: Yohanes Manasye)

Ruteng Diocese in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province has attacked government plans to give an operating license to a limestone quarry and cement factory, saying indigenous people were being cheated out of their land and could be left homeless.

Extensive damage to the environment would also result from cement companies PT Istindo Mitra Manggarai and PT Singa Merah operating in an area of more than 500 hectares near the north coast of Flores island, said Father Marthen Jenarut, chairman of the diocese’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission.

"This issue is not just about economic investment. The most important issues are the environment and the basic rights of local people," he told UCA News on April 30.

The priest claimed many villagers in Lingko Lolok and Luwuk were duped into accepting just 10 million rupiah (US$669) each from the companies as a down payment for their land.

"The amount for land acquisition and crop compensation was determined unilaterally by the companies," said Father Jenarut.

He also said people were not initially told that they would have to be resettled. But this prospect suddenly appeared in the agreement the companies drew up.

“The Church is not against investment, but the Church wants to make sure that justice is upheld, human dignity is respected and the environment is not damaged,” he said.

The resettlement plan, he said, was an effort to eradicate their identity as indigenous people, while no effort had been made to offer them an alternative livelihood. 

Investment in mining was not the only option to improving people’s lives, the priest said.

"The welfare of the local community can be also improved through agriculture and livestock,” the priest said. “It is better to prioritize these activities to improve people's welfare, rather than mining." 

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Father Jenarut pointed to a manganese mining operation that closed down in 2017 due to opposition. He said the mine never fulfilled an obligation to rehabilitate the land and left a series of open pits that left locals unable to utilize the land.

East Manggarai district head Andreas Agas, who approved the plans for the quarry, claimed local communities would benefit from the deal but declined to say how.

Representatives of the companies could not be reached for comment.

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