Appeal likely in palm oil dispute

Appeal likely in palm oil dispute

04 April 2012

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Indonesia — THE courts in Aceh have failed to protect a carbon-rich peat forest and critically endangered orang utans from the actions of a palm oil company which Jakarta acknowledges has acted illegally.

After five months of detailed argument, the three-judge court sitting in Banda Aceh threw the case out on jurisdictional grounds, saying the complainants from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) should first have sought mediation with the company.

The lawyer for the complainants, Kamaruddin, said the judges had used the wrong legislation – the environmental law, not administrative law – to make their determination, and said an appeal was likely.
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And Riswan Zein, a representative of environmental group Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, said if the judges were going to insist on mediation, they should have mentioned it earlier in the case, which started last October.

The case began when Aceh’s then governor, Irwandi Yusuf, signed a permit in August last year to allow Indonesian palm oil giant PT Kallista Alam to set up a plantation in the environmentally sensitive Tripa peat swamp, seven hours south of Banda Aceh.

Detailed maps presented to the court showed that the concession was part of the Leuser Ecosystem, which is protected from development under Indonesia’s 2008 national planning law.

The area is one of the last redoubts of the endangered Sumatran orang utan.

Sumatra-based landscape protection specialist Graham Usher told The Age that the company had begun actively clearing the swamp by burning, which is also illegal under Indonesian law.

A spokesman for Mr Irwandi, who is running for re-election as governor in Monday’s Aceh poll, said he respected what the environmental groups had done in bringing the case.

Without resiling from his decision to issue the permit, he said he would “sit down and talk” with the complainants.

Last year Indonesia’s secretary-general of the Ministry of Forestry, Hadi Daryanto, told the Jakarta Post that the PT Kallista Alam permit was “clearly a violation because the area in question is a peat forest”.

The permit also appears to breach Indonesia’s international responsibilities under the REDD+ project, under which Norway has promised to pay the country $US1billion to protect its peat forests as a way of addressing climate change.

Mr Kamaruddin said yesterday the verdict put that payment under threat.

Environmental groups say that, in the last 21 years, about 70 per cent of Tripa’s original forest and its orang utan population have been destroyed.

Late last month, another rash of peat forest in the area was burned and drained, prompting a coalition of environment groups to claim that, unless authorities stopped the illegal action, the local population of the Sumatran orang utan “could be extinct in a matter of months, even weeks if a prolonged dry spell were to set in” and fuel the fires.

The orang utan population is estimated at several hundred, of which the environment groups estimate 100 may have died in the fires of recent weeks.

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