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Papuan priests back revocation of palm oil licenses

Clerics say they were inspired by Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment

Papuan priests back revocation of palm oil licenses

Sorong district head Johny Kamuru speaks during a press conference on Sept. 1 about a lawsuit against him by three palm oil companies whose licenses he had revoked. (Photo: YouTube)

A group of Papuan priests have joined activists to support a district head who is being sued for revoking palm oil companies’ licenses and returning land to indigenous people.

In a statement, the priests from Manokwari-Sorong Diocese in West Papua said they fully support Sorong district head Johny Kamuru, who revoked the permits of four palm oil companies “to save the forests and lands inherited by the Moi tribe” who live around the companies’ concessions.

“The life of the Moi people today is inseparable from their ancestral land. For them, land does not only have an economic meaning, it also has a spiritual meaning," they said.

Kamuru was reported to the Jayapura State Administrative Court last month by three of four companies — PT Cipta Papua Plantation, PT Papua Lestari Abadi, PT Sorong Agro Sawitindo and PT Inti Kebun Lestari — whose licenses were revoked in April. Their permits issued from 2009-19 have a total concession of 105,702 hectares.

Kamuru said on Sept. 1 that he was not afraid of facing the lawsuit as his decision was taken after he consulted with the provincial government and the Corruption Eradication Commission and the permits were not used properly.

"Of the thousands of hectares of their concessions, only a few hectares are used for oil palm plantations. They only use it as collateral to get loans from banks. In fact, indigenous people need land," he said.

He hoped that other leaders in Papua will be bold enough to adopt the same policy as Kamuru

He said the land would automatically be returned to the indigenous people.

Father Izaak Bame, spokesman for the priests, said the court needed to uphold the right to life as part of the Moi people's human rights.

He said their voices were inspired by Laudato Si', Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment which views the earth as a common home.

Laudato Si' emphasized that the land and the forest and everything that lives in them is a picture of the face of God who is loving, amazing, enchanting and full of mystery,” he said,

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He hoped that other leaders in Papua will be bold enough to adopt the same policy as Kamuru.

The district head’s decision has received wide support from rights activists, including 25 organizations of the Coalition of Civil Society Networks for Papua.

In a statement, they said Kamuru's move was a form of responsibility to prioritize the interests of the rights of indigenous Papuans in maintaining natural sustainability.

"We support this decision and at the same time call for the repeal of various government policies that prioritize the interests of corporations and large investors in Papua and ignore respect for the rights of indigenous Papuans," they said.

Meanwhile, an online petition on change.org to support the district head has already garnered more than 32,000 signatures.

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