JAKARTA,Indonesia Thirteen mining companies will be able to operate in protectedforests in Indonesia after the country’s highest court Thursday rejected apetition by environmental groups claiming the practice was illegal.
The Constitutional Court ruled the 13 companies, which media reports saidincluded local and foreign outfits, should be allowed to mine in the forestsbecause they had signed contracts to do so before a 1999 law banned the practice.
“The sanctity of the contracts must be upheld,” said the court’s headJimmy Asshiddiqie, while delivering the verdict.
The immediate repercussions of the ruling were not immediately clear. Thecompanies affected by it were not named in the verdict, a copy of which wasobtained by The Associated Press.
However, environmental groups who filed the petition claimed that it would leadto further degradation of Indonesia’s forests, already under threat from illegallogging, slash-and-burn agriculture and urban expansion.
“It is very disappointing,” said Yayat Afianto, from Telepak, aprominent forestry conservation group. “Allowing mining in protectedforests means that they will be spoiled for ever. The only virgin forests wehave left are protected ones.”
The government in 1999 banned mining in protected forests, which Telepakestimates account for some 8.68 million hectares (21.5 million acres) across thecountry. However, the government passed an emergency law in 2004 allowingcompanies with pre-existing contracts to resume operations.
Thursday’s ruling concerned the legality of that law.