February 2, 2011

Borneo Forests Threatened By Illegal Operations

Indonesia said Tuesday that it plans to step up its law enforcement on Borneo Island, after it acknowledged that hundreds of mine and plantation companies are operating illegally on the island, which is affecting forests and threatened species.

The forest ministry admitted that less than 20 percent of the companies operating on the island and less than 1.5 percent of the mining firms had official permits in Central Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo.

"There are only 67 plantation companies out of 352 that operate legally in Central Kalimantan province, while there are only nine out of 615 mine units that operate legally," the ministry told AFP in a statement.

The findings were released after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set up a task force to look into the "forest mafia" (networks of miners, planters and officials blamed for illegal land clearing).

The task force found violations of laws designed to protect Indonesia's forests had "become widespread in a number of regions, especially in Central Kalimantan province."

Deforestation by the palm oil and paper industries in Indonesia are the main problems making Indonesia the world's third biggest greenhouse gases offender. Corruption in the ranks plays a key role in keeping the country a continuing large-scale emitter of greenhouse gases.

A study last year by the University of Indonesia concluded that the Indonesian military acted as a coordinator, financier and facilitator for illegal loggers in Borneo, where rates of deforestation are fastest in the world.

The forestry ministry promised it would stop issuing permits in the province of Borneo and to cooperate with the Corruption Eradication Commission to enforce the laws there.

Environmentalists and conservationists have put pressure on President Yudhoyono to enact on a promised two-year ban on the clear-cutting of natural forest and peatland, which was due to begin January 1. The government was accused last month of granting new clearing permits to companies on the eve of the moratorium.

Norway agreed in May last year to contribute up to $1 billion to help preserve Indonesia's forests, in part through the moratorium.