Thousands of Indonesians Protest Against Major Gold Mine Threatening Leuser Ecosystem

Between April 9th and 11th, thousands of Indonesian protesters demonstrated against a proposed gold mining operation in front of the Acehnese Governor’s Office in Banda Aceh, as community members have also forcibly evicted mining company employees, effectively stopping the contested gold mining activities and operations in Beutong Ateuh Banggalang Sub-district.

The protests are against the presence of the company PT. Emas Mineral Murni (EMM), which operates a concession granted from the central government to operate gold mining in Beutong Ateuh Banggalang, Nagan Raya Regency, Aceh Province. The proposed activity would devastate the intact, protected forest in the region while harming the local community.

Village communities, together with thousands of university students, staged rallies and demonstrations against PT. EMM, where the community in Beutong Ateuh Banggalang District, Nagan Raya marched at the mining location, while thousands of students from various universities gathered at the Aceh Governor’s Office demanding that the Aceh government sue the central government to cancel the company’s permit.

Thousands protest in front of Aceh Governor Office,
Thousands of protesters in front of Aceh Governor Office, Banda Aceh, on 9-11 April 2019 against PT. EMM gold mine in Beutong Ateuh Banggalang, Nagan Raya Regency, Aceh Province. (Photo: Junaidi Hanafiah / Mongabay Indonesia)

The Indonesian government, through the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) issued an Exploration License or Production Operation License for gold mine company PT. Emas Mineral Murni (EMM) on December 19, 2017. The exploration license authorizes mining operations over 10,000 hectares, with around 6,000 hectares located inside protected forests within the Leuser Ecosystem which holds status as a National Strategic Area.

EMM is a large porphyry copper-gold mine operated in Nagan Raya and Central Aceh regency. It is a foreign investment company with Asiamet Resources Limited owning 80% of its equity. In January 2018, Asiamet, an Australia based company, and its Indonesian partner PT Emas Mineral Murni (EMM) were granted the Operation Production Mining Business Licence (Izin Usaha Pertambangan Operasi Produksi / IUP-OP) required to advance the project to the development stage.

Investigation map of PT. Emas Mineral Murni in Nagan Raya and Central Aceh District
Investigation map of PT. Emas Mineral Murni in Nagan Raya and Central Aceh District showing that the Production Operation License for gold mine company will take 5.981 hectares of protected forest, which 918 hectares of the area included in Leuser Ecosystem Area. (Source: Walhi Aceh)

The presence of PT. EMM has been strongly opposed by the Beutong Ateuh Banggalang Sub-district community since September 10, 2018. People from the villages of Babah Suak, Kuta Tengoh, Blang Puuk, and Blang Meurandeh are worried that the company’s presence will cause environmental disaster and threaten people’s safety.

Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) also stated that there is no permit given by MoEF for PT. EMM to operate inside the protected forest area, therefore PT. EMM have been operating without the issuance of required Borrow-Use of Protected Forest Area Permit (IPPKH) and it is therefore violating the law if they continue to operate inside protected forest areas.

Mining road which destroying intact Beutong rainforest.
Mining road which destroying intact Beutong rainforest. GPS: 4° 28′ 30.378″ N
96° 33′ 50.136″ E (Photo: Junaidi Hanafiah / Mongabay Indonesia)

On October 15, 2018 Walhi Aceh, and the Community of Beutong Ateuh Banggalang, Nagan Raya District of Aceh Province representative, filed a lawsuit at the Jakarta State Administrative Court addressing BKPM and Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources to revoke PT. EMM Exploration License or Production Operation License.

Forced to action by the size of the community struggle and university students’ demonstration, the Aceh Provincial Government, led by Nova Iriansyah as acting Governor, decided to revoke PT. EMM’s recommendation letter that had been issued by the previous Governor of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam No. 545/12161 on June 8, 2006. Nova Iriansyah then submitted letter No. 545/6320 on April 18, 2019 to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources of the Republic of Indonesia (ESDM) asking for review on BKPM Exploration Letter for PT. EMM gold mine company. A major step needs to be taken by the Acehnese Government and National Government of Indonesia to cancel this irresponsible development and stand with local communities and organizations to defend the Leuser Ecosystem.