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Indonesian prelate clarifies 'misleading' dam reports

Archbishop in East Nusa Tenggara province denies suggestions that he backs a govt project opposed by many of his flock

Indonesian prelate clarifies 'misleading' dam reports

Archbishop Vincentius Sensi Potokoa of Ende (left) holds a machete during a gathering of indigenous Catholics in East Nusa Tenggara province. (Photo: UCA News)

An archbishop has been forced to clarify his views on a controversial dam project in Indonesia’s Catholic-majority East Nusa Tenggara province after several local news reports last week suggested he backed it.

“As a shepherd and a leader of Catholics, I am not in a position to agree or disagree. I am neutral,” Archbishop Vincentius Sensi Potokota of Ende said on Sept. 25.

He was speaking at the consecration of a new church in Jawakisa village in Nagekeo district.

The controversial project in question is a proposed US$100 million dam the Indonesian government wants to build in Rendubutowe, a village in the same district, by 2024.

The government says the dam is part of a scheme to irrigate 6,000 hectares of rice fields, but local indigenous people say the proposed site is on their land which includes ancestral burial grounds. 

Archbishop Potokota said the news reports seemed to suggest he backed the government project because he had not actively come out in support of the indigenous locals who are nearly all Catholic.

My concern as a shepherd is about the condition of the people as they face difficulty fulfilling basic needs, including clean water

He said he felt he had to clarify the issue in case Catholics formed the wrong impression based on the reports.

The archbishop said the dam has split opinion ever since it was proposed in 2016 and that he would rather maintain neutrality and not have the Church caught up in the controversy.

The latest protest was on Sept. 25 when dozens of people marched on and staged a rally at the local district office.

Archbishop Potokota expressed hope a compromise could be reached as a boost to agriculture was needed in the district.   

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“My concern as a shepherd is about the condition of the people as they face difficulty fulfilling basic needs, including clean water,” he said.

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