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If Indonesia’s President is serious about addressing deforestation, why is Tripa still ablaze?

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If Indonesia's President is serious about addressing deforestation, why is Tripa still ablaze?

“Forests are so dear to my heart,” said Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in September 2011. In the same speech, he said he would dedicate the next three years to protecting Indonesia’s forests. So why are the Tripa peat swamp forests in Aceh still burning to make way for oil palm plantations?

At Rio +20, President Yudhoyono announced that “deforestation is a thing of the past” and that “losing our tropical rainforests would constitute the ultimate national, global and planetary disaster”.

Last week, the Coalition to save the Tripa peat swamps put out a press release highlighting the ongoing destruction of the peat swamps. The Environmental Ministry, the national police and the REDD+ Taskforce are investigating, but Kamaruddin, lawyer for the Tripa community, argues that President Yudhoyono must get involved:

“The ongoing destructive activities of these companies during the investigation indicates their complete disregard for Indonesian law and the authority of the ongoing investigation, and the government is allowing this to happen. A direct Presidential Instruction is urgently required to bring an immediate halt to the rampant and illegal destruction of Tripa, not a speech telling the world deforestation is a thing of the past.”

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme has launched a petition on change.org making the following demands to President Yudhoyono:

  • Announce a Presidential Instruction to immediately cease all actitities of companies operating in Tripa, and The Leuser Ecosystem.
  • Increase the scope of the current investigation to include the activities of all the 5 companies who continue to this day, destroying Tripa protected forests.
  • Launch a full power audit into how permits have been obtained of all the 5 companies, and the laws broken, and fully punish offenders to the full extent of the law.
  • Restore Rawa Tripa, Enforce National Spatial Planning Law 26/2007

On 4 July 2012, the head of the REDD+ Taskforce, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, wrote to the Governor of Aceh, Zaini Abdullah, requesting that he revoke the permits of two companies operating in Tripa. A translation of the Aceh Post report about the letter is posted below. The original in bahasa Indonesia is available here.

Increase in fires burning in Tripa highlights Indonesian Government failing to cease deforestation

29 June 2012.

Press release from “Coalition to save the Tripa peat swamps”

Increase in fires burning in Tripa highlight Indonesian Government failing to cease deforestation; orangutan population doomed unless illegal activities halted immediately.

Another massive wave of fires currently sweeping across the Tripa peat swamp forests has highlighted the accelerating destruction and ongoing disregard of Indonesian National Law by palm oil companies inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem, despite a high level National Investigation launched months ago, which is yet to report on findings.

A recent spike in the number of fires was recorded by satellites monitoring fire hotspot activity in Sumatra, and confirmed by field staff yesterday who filmed and photographed numerous fires burning in the palm oil concessions operating right across in Tripa.

The five companies at present actively operating in Tripa have responded to the increased media scrutiny and current investigation by increasing security on their plantations. Some are even being guarded by military and police personnel stationed along access routes while illegally lit fires burn inside.

“The ongoing destructive activities of these companies during the investigation indicates their complete disregard for Indonesian law and the authority of the ongoing investigation, and the government is allowing this to happen.” Stated Kamaruddin, lawyer for the Tripa community.

“A direct Presidential Instruction is urgently required to bring an immediate halt to the rampant and illegal destruction of Tripa, not a speech telling the world deforestation is a thing of the past.” Kamaruddin added.

“There is no doubt that each of these companies is breaking several laws. Whilst we realize, and very much appreciate and support the investigation going on (by the Department of Environment), it’s proving to be too little too late. These companies simply have to be ordered to stop immediately, and that order to be strictly enforced, otherwise the Peat Forests and inhabitants of Tripa will be lost forever”, he added.

One of the five companies operating in Tripa, PT. Kallista Alam, was challenged in court and its concession area recently reinstated as off limits to deforestation and degradation in the 2nd revision of Moratorium Map on May 25th, 2012. This particular concession has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle as it clearly contravenes National Spatial Law No 26/2007 and Government Regulation 26/2008, since it was granted inside the Leuser Ecosystem National Strategic Area for environmental protection, in which no concessions can be granted that damage the environmental protection function of the ecosystem, and in which all activities that do damage the ecosystem must be halted, and damaged areas restored.

Fires continued to rage late yesterday in the northern stretches of the PT Kallista Alam concession. Likewise, numerous obviously deliberately set fires were also observed in the concessions of PT. Surya Panen Subur 2, PT. Cemerlang Abadi, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur , PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari and an area known as the PT Patriot Guna Sakti Abadi concession, even though the latter was never formally granted.

“The situation is indeed extremely dire” reports Dr Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. “Every time I have visited Tripa in the last 12 months I have found several orangutans, hanging on for their very survival, right at the forest edge. Its very easy to find them and we have already evacuated a few lucky ones to safer areas. But when you see the scale and speed of the current wave of destruction and the condition of the remaining forests, there can be no doubt whatsoever that many have already died in Tripa due to the fires themselves, or due to starvation as a result of the loss of their habitat and food resources”, he explained.

The Tripa peat swamp forests have received considerable international attention, much of it focusing on the fact that the burning of Tripa’s peat swamp forests made a mockery of a 1 billion USD agreement between the Governments of Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, also known as the REDD deal, since the peat alone in Tripa sequesters huge amount of carbon that is being released into the atmosphere even now .

Tripa was also high on the agenda at the first meeting between the newly inaugurated Governor of Aceh and the European Union, just a few days ago. Furthermore, on June 13th at a global policy address on the future of Indonesia’s forests, ahead of Rio+20 summit, at CIFOR, President SBY himself proclaimed that “deforestation is a thing of the past” and “Losing our tropical rain forests would constitute the ultimate national, global and planetary disaster. That’s why Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry.”

Yet the ongoing destruction witnessed by the coalition team in recent days is a clear indication that these are simply empty words, and that Indonesia is giving no reasons for its international commitments to be taken as anything more than mere rhetoric.

Dr Singleton also pointed out, “There is still a decent orangutan population in Tripa, however hard and fast it is being extinguished, and there are also large tracts of land that have been cleared of forests but never used. If these companies were immediately instructed to stop all their destructive operations while the legal investigation process continues, and then removed, ideally with prosecutions and appropriate punishment, Tripa, its orangutan population, and many of the contributions it once made to local community livelihoods could still be restored.”

“But without an immediate halt it will all be lost, to the ultimate benefit of only a handful of already incredibly rich people based elsewhere. This whole thing makes absolutely no sense at all, not environmentally nor even economically. It is simply greed, on a massive scale. A simply staggering scale in fact.” Stressed Dr. Ian Singleton.

Kuntoro Requests The Governor of Aceh to Revoke Plantation Permit in Tripa Peat Swamp

The Atjeh Post

Wednesday, July 04, 2012 22:45 WIB

MUHAJIR ABDUL AZIZ, Free Translation by Adji Darsoyo

BANDA ACEH – Head of UKP4 , Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, requested the Governor of Aceh, Zaini Abdullah, to revoke the permits of two companies operating in the Tripa Peat Swamp Ecosystem in Nagan Raya.

This request was addressed by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto in his capacity as the Head of UKP4 through an official letter to the the Governor on Wednesday, July 4, 2012.

In the letter read by one of the Deuputies of UKP4, Mas Achmad Santosa, Kuntoro requested to the Governor to withdraw the permits Surya Panen Subur II and PT Kalista Alam.

But Achmad Santosa did not explain the reason of Kuntoro Mangkusubroto requesting the withdrawal of the permits of both companies. “We will first meet with the Governor,” said Achmad Santosa, or known also as Otta, to Atjeh Post.

Besides those two things, Otta also explained that Kuntoro requested the Governor to coordinate with the Aceh Provincial Police in the implementation of the withdrawal of those permits.

Previously, Zaini Abdullah told The Atjeh Post that the case of environmental destruction conducted by some companies in the Ecosystem of Tripa Peat Swamp has to be seriously taken into account. The Governor also regretted the destruction of that particular peat swamp area.

“This should have not happened, we will discuss in the very next opportunity,” said Zaini Abdullah after the inauguration process of the Banda Aceh’s Mayor and his Deputy on Wednesday, July 4, 2012.

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