Smoke rising from several spots scattered throughout more than 61,000 hectares of carbon-rich Tripa peat swamp forests in Nagan Raya regency, Aceh, could be easily seen from a Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft flying low above the area on Thursday last week.
Onboard the airplane were a number of top officials from agencies tasked with investigating a case involving palm oil company PT Kallista Alam, which was alleged to be responsible for the fires that have threatened the ecosystem of about 200 orangutans living in the area.
The case also caught the attention of the global community and has tainted the reputation of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has only recently returned from the Rio +20 Summit where he touted his green initiatives, which include programs like a moratorium on deforestation.
A petition signed by concerned individuals from around the world, questioning the Indonesian government’s ability to halt the environmental destruction at Tripa, have prompted the authorities to take action.
The police, the Environment Ministry and the Forestry Ministry are all on the case, with the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) pushing for action.
The UKP4’s visit to the site was part of a move to examine the situation on the ground and collect evidence against the palm oil company.
Technicalities in the law, however, have hamstrung the investigation.
Aerial photographs of the Tripa peat swamp, for example, cannot be used as evidence by the investigation team.
“Based on the Information and Transaction Law, photographs can be only be used as evidence if they are backed up by an official report from the investigation and direct [confirmation and] testimonies from employees from the company who joined the trip,” the Environment Ministry’s investigation division head, Shaifuddin Akbar, said at the Cut Nyak Dien airport in Nagan Raya last week after wrapping up the aerial inspection. PT Kallista Alam’s employees were unavailable to take part in the task force’s investigative fly-over.
Akbar added that the team also had conducted a ground check to complete their investigative report.
Environment Ministry’s head investigator Sudariyono said that his team found strong indications that PT Kallista Alam, had deliberately burned the peat swamp to convert the area to an oil palm plantation.
“First, an aerial view showed a pattern to the burning of the forest, a strong indication that it was planned. Second, we could see that the company had done nothing to put out the fire, let alone implement preventive measures against fire. We found no personnel or fire fighting equipment stationed in the area.
Sudariyono said that all offenses were found in peatland protected by a governmental regulation.
“Our ground check found that Rawa Tripa was a peatland with a depth of three meters or more, meaning that it is protected under a 1990 presidential decree,” Sudariyono said.
He said that the investigation team was expected to file a criminal and civil suit against PT Kallista Alam and seek damages for causing environmental destruction in the area.
National Police director for special crimes Brig. Gen. Gatot Subiyaktoro said that preliminary findings indicated that the company had violated Law No. 18/2004 on plantations by conducting illegal land clearing, burning land and planting oil palms without permits.
He added that the police also found irregularities in the issuance of the plantation’s permit.
Then Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf granted the permit to the company on Aug. 25, 2011, contradicting Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on the moratorium for new permits in primary forests and peatland
Gatot said that Irwandi, who recently lost the local election in April to Zaini Abdullah, likely broke the law by overstepping his legal authority, as the issuance of such permit only needed approval from a regent.
“To pursue our investigation, we will question experts on plantation and state administration soon,” Gatot said.
The UKP4 has recommended PT Kallista Alam’s permit be revoked.
Representatives from several NGOs, including the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the Aceh Legal Aid Institute, Wetlands International as well as representatives from the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority (BPKEL), have demanded the government shut down drainage canals in Tripa peatswamp that were used by the company to drain the peat in order to prevent further degradation of the peatland.
The Tripa peat swamp was included in the Forestry Ministry’s latest “Indicative Moratorium Map” of 65,282,006 hectares of natural forests and peatland that are considered off-limits for commercial activities.
The map serves as a guideline for local administrations when issuing licenses for forest clearance for commercial purposes.
Fidelis E. Satriastanti
The Environment Ministry has found indications of arson in recent fires at the protected Tripa peat forest in Aceh, a senior ministry official said on Sunday.
“It baffles me. We are still investigating, but these fires keep occurring,” said Sudariyono, the ministry’s deputy for legal compliance.
“We have a strong suspicion that the fires are not accidental, judging by how they are shaped. When viewed from above it is very irregular. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a mitigation system, in the sense that no one’s trying to put them out.”
A moratorium map published by the ministry identified Tripa as protected area. Tripa is also part of Leuser Ecosystem, a national strategic area for environmental protection. There is also a law in place that is meant to prohibit the issuance of new concessions on land with peat layers more than three meters deep.
Despite this, two companies, Kallista Alam and Surya Panen Subur 2, received concessions in Tripa.
Kallista’s permit, issued by former Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, is currently the subject of a legal challenge by activists.
Sudariyono said Surya Panen “was suspected of burning some 1,183 hectares” of land inside the Tripa peat swamp from March 19 to 24 this year.
Kallista, he said, was believed to have burned some 30 hectares of its 1,605-hectare concession in the peat swamp.
The ministry has not concluded its investigation but Sudariyono said his office was already mulling legal action against Kallista and Surya Panen. The companies “could be charged in criminal court over the fires and they could face lawsuits for damaging the forest,” he said.
The Environment Ministry has questioned witnesses from the two companies, nongovernmental organizations, residents and local government offices.
- The Condition of Tripa Peat Swamp Is Critical, All Drainage Canals Should Be Blocked (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Fires threaten to ‘extinguish’ critical Indonesian orangutan population (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
SUKA MAKMUE – Top officials and representatives of UKP4, REDD+ Task Force National Police, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Forestry and Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority conducted over flight to monitor Tripa Peat Swamp during their visit on Thursday, July 5, 2012.
Nirarta Samadhi, said that the Deputy V of UKP only observed the current condition of Tripa Peat Swamp from the air to complete several final steps related to the case of permits for oil palm plantation in the area.
Besides, to apply moratorium for all activities in Tripa, to request for multi-party support including from the Local Government and to conduct scientific research to identify the condition and the chemical substance of the swamp, added Nirarta.
“Also to ask the government to review the existing permits, since these are issued based on various reasons,” said Nirarta confirming to The Atjeh Post via cellular phone.
Those steps, she said, are to finalise the case and to restore Tripa Peat Swamp into protected area.
“From those several steps, we request for a good solution to avoid any error in the future,” said Nirarta.
Beforehand, based on information gathered by The Atjeh Post, the team has stopped by Cut Nyak Dhien Air Field in Nagan Raya at aroung 9:30 in the morning of Thursday, July 5, 2012 before flying over Tripa. 
kompas cetak – free translation by Adji Darsoyo
UKP4 requested the withdrawal of land use permits issued for a company covering 1,605 ha in Tripa Peat Swamp, Aceh. This request has been addressed during their meeting with the Head of Aceh Police and the Governor of Aceh, Wednesday (04/07).
Wednesday evening I met with the Governor of Aceh requesting him to withdraw violating permits,” said Deputy VI of UKP4, Mas Achmad Santosa, in Banda Aceh yesterday. He, together with the Deputy V of UKP4, Nirarta Samadhi, have also met with Environmental NGOs in Aceh, community representatives, BPKEL, Ministry of Environment, environmental experts and the police.
Last June, a team of UKP4, Ministry of Environment, Police and Attorney General visited Tripa Peat Swamp. The investigators checked the plantation management on site.
Executive Director WALHI Aceh, TM Zulfikar, said that the activities of palm oil companies in Tripa did not only lead to environmental destruction but also violating the law. Various government regulations ignores the restriction of clearing this protected area.
Among others is the Presidential Decree No. 32/1990 stated that peatland of more than 3 m deep has to be accredited as protection area. This is enforced by the Government Regulation No. 26/2008 that included Tripa Peat Swamp as part of the Leuser Ecosystem. Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on Moratorium of New Permit in Primary Forest and Peatlands was issued in 2011.
“Those regulations were just ignored. Even, in August 2011, the former Governor of Aceh issued a land use permit covering 1,605 ha. Clearing by burning also continues without any sanction,” he said.
The Coordinator of Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari for Tripa Peat Swamp, Halim Gurning, said that surrounding community of Tripa and NGOs habe reported the case to the police. But, they were terrorised instead.
Brig. Gen. Gatot from Criminal Division of the Central Police leading the case of environmental violation in Tripa Peat Swamp said that the investigators found evidence of violations conducted by the companies, especially related to clearing by burning. “Irregularities were found in the permit issued by the Governor of Aceh in August 2011,” he said.
Separately, the Governor of Aceh, Zaini Abdullah, said that the issuance of the permit for one of the companies in Tripa should have not happened. “This problem will be discussed further with UKP4,” he said.
- [PRESS RELEASE] Increase in fires burning in Tripa highlights Indonesian Government failing to cease deforestation (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Kuntoro Requests The Governor of Aceh to Revoke Plantation Permit in Tripa Peat Swamp (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Government Applies Triple Track to Stop Permit on Tripa Peat Swamp | Berita Satu (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
COMMUNITY LAWYERS COALITION TEAM | Free translation by Adji Darsoyo
ALL canals of the palm oil plantations in Tripa Peat Swamp within the Leuser Ecosystem have to be blocked to restore the optimal function of the swamp ecosystem. Otherwise, it will lead to a total destruction that can also lead to the vanishing of the community in its interior, since the subsidence caused leads to its vulnerability towards disaster. Peat fires increased recently caused by the canals that increase the vulnerability towards fire. The government has to immediately respond to the current situation in Tripa and to take concrete action to stop the destruction of Tripa. Otherwise, this will give an impression that the government only protects the interest of oil palm companies without any attention towards community’s interest. The condition of Tripa is currently extremely critical and needs immediate solution. Dried peat layers burns easily and lots of orangutans were burnt to death.
Investigation carried out by the authorities related to various violation in Tripa, Aceh, has not been finalised, but peat burning continues, even in larger scale. Increased peat burning in Tripa shows that the Indonesian Government fails to stop deforestation. Orangutan population in this particular area is vanishing, unless all illegal activities in the area were ceased as immediate as possible. A wave of large scale peat burning swept across Tripa Peat Swamp forest, reflecting the rapid destruction of destruction and consistent ignorance towards Indonesian National Law by oil palm companies within the protected Leuser Ecosystem, despite the investigation at national level was launched last month, an investigation, which findings has not been made public. New records on the number of fires has been recorded in Sumatra by fire or hotspot observation satellite that has been confirmed by field staff last week through film and pictures documentary. Fires occurred in palm oil concession areas in the whole Tripa. Five companies currently active in Tripa has responded to the increased media observations and investigations by increasing the security of their plantation. Some are even guarded by military and police force that are positioned along the access road during the illegal slash and burn occurred in the plantation areas.
Destructive activities continue to be conducted by the plantation companies during the on-going investigation. This shows clear ignorance towards Indonesian laws and investigating authorities. This is a weird event and the government should have stopped this.
Under such condition, I’d like to address to the President to issue direct instructions to halt the wide spread illegal destruction of Tripa. Not only giving nice speeches, while the facts on the field are completely different.
There is no doubt that each of the company violate several laws. Meanwhile, we very much realise and appreciate as well as support the on-going investigation conducted by the Ministry of Environment, even though it has been proven to be slow. Those companies should have been ordered to immediately stop, so that the law enforcement in forestry sector can proceed, since otherwise the peat forest and the community of Tripa will disappear forever. One of the companies operating in Tripa, PT. Kallista Alam, has been brought before the court and the company’s plantation area was re-included in the 2nd revision of the moratorium map on May 25, 2012 that it is since restricted for deforestation and degradation.
The area has certainly been a subject of an ongoing legal battle, since it has clearly violated the National Law No. 26/2007 on Spatial Planning and the Government Regulation No. 26/2008 related to the permit for this particular area within the National Strategic Area (Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser) with protecting function, where actually no permit to be issued for any destructive activity towards the protecting function of the ecosystem, and where all destructive activities are to be ceased and the devastated area to be rehabilitated. Fires raged last week in the northern side of the area of PT. Kallista Alam.much of the clearly elaborated fires were also observed within the area of PT. Surya Panen Subur-2, PT. Cemerlang Abadi, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur, PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari and within the area known as the former area of PT. Patriot Guna Sakti Abadi, although for the latter, no official permit seemed to be issued.
“It is indeed a horrible situation,” said Dr. Ian Singleton from Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP). “Every time I visited Tripa during the past 12 months, I always found several orangutans hanging to survive at forest edge. It was so easy to find them and we have evacuated some lucky ones to other, more secure areas. But when you look at the speed of the wave of destruction and the condition of the remaining forest, there is not even a single doubt that lots of orangutans died caused by the fire itself, or starved to death due to the lost of habitat and food source,” he said.
The Tripa Peat Swamp Forest has attracted many and quite large international attentions, many of which focused on the facts that the burning of Tripa Peat Swamp Forest became a subject of humiliation towards the US$ 1 billion dollar agreement between the Indonesian and the Norwegian Government to reduce emission from deforestation and forest degradation, also known as REDD+ Agreement, since the peat swamp of Tripa absorbs huge amount of carbon released to the atmosphere.
Dr. Singleton also pointed out that “There is a viable orangutan population in Tripa, but it vanishes quickly, and there are never-utilized cleared forest as well. All those companies should have received instructions to halt all destructive operations during the investigation process conducted by the authorities. Ideally, appropriate law suit and prosecution are to be applied to save Tripa included its orangutan population and to rehabilitate the area, due to its huge contribution to the livelihood of the local community.”
“But if there is no immediate halt, then everything will be lost for the sake of the interest of only a few people, who are already very rich and living somewhere else. All these don’t make any sense at all, not environmentally friendly or economically even not profitable. This is a large-scale greed. An outrageous scale of greed,” said Dr. Ian Singleton.
- Despite moratorium and investigation, fires rage in key Sumatran peat swamp (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
[PRESS RELEASE] Increase in fires burning in Tripa highlights Indonesian Government failing to cease deforestation
FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION – PLEASE SEND TO RELEVANT NETWORKS
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.
Notes for Editors:
.pdf version of the press release is available for download here
following fire hotspots maps available for download here
For Further Press inquiries, Please Contact:
Kamaruddin (Bahasa Indonesian Only)
Tripa Community Lawyer
Dr Ian Singleton
Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
Also, for further media statement, please contact:
Saud Usman Nasution
Spokesperson for Indonesian National Police
+62 811 979 2222
PT. Kallista Alam
Komp. Taman Setiabudi Indah II, blok V (ruko) No. 11-14, Medan 20133 Phone: 061 – 8216541
Fax: 061 – 8216532
Jl.Cycas II Blok UU, No.55 Taman Setia Budi Indah, Medan, North Sumatera
Phone: 061-800200, 812380
PT. Surya Panen Subur 2
Jl.Pulo Ayang raya,Blok OR Kav.1 Kawasan industri Pulogadung Jakarta13930
PT. Cemerlang Abadi
Central Plaza, 3rd Floor, Jl.Jend.Sudirman Kav.47 Jakarta 12930
PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari
Rasuna Office Park ZO 10-11 Rasuna Epicentrum, Jakarta
Phone: 021-83703232, 031-5925239
Fax: 021-83704488, 031-5925387
PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur
LENDMARK Centre,Tower A, 8th floor,Jl. Jend sudirman No.1 Jakarta 12910
Phone: (021)5712790, 5712853
- Tripa continues to burn as President Yudhoyono to give global policy address on future of Indonesia’s forests (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- As Indonesia’s president talks of “sustainable growth with equity”, Tripa continues to burn | REDD Monitor (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
May 21 (Reuters) – Indonesia‘s government said on Monday it would protect a strip of peatland in Aceh province at the centre of an international storm over palm oil development, in a case that had become a test of the country’s commitment to halt deforestation.
Indonesia imposed a two-year moratorium on clearing forest last May under a $1 billion climate deal with Norway aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation, but the former governor of the country’s westernmost Aceh province breached the ban by issuing a permit to a palm oil firm to develop the peatland.
This prompted legal action from environmental groups and probes by the police and several government bodies.
The resulting preliminary investigation showed that the permit was issued to palm oil firm Kallista Alam without following proper procedures, a government official said.
The forest, home to endangered orangutans, was partly cleared by burning, even before the permit was issued, said Mas Achmad Santosa, an official at the presidency.
“The case of Kallista Alam in Aceh is the typical problem we are facing … some parts have been turned to palm oil plantations, some have been burned, and it turned out the permit does not exist,” said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who is in charge of overseeing forestry sector reform.
He said the peatland would again be listed as a protected area.
Former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf issued the permit to open 1,605 hectares of land for palm oil in the Tripa peatland area in August last year.
Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil exporter and has seen rapid growth in production of the edible oil, used to make cooking oil and biscuits, in recent years.
(Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Jeremy Laurence)
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