Urgent campaign to save Siberut

Wednesday, October 16, 1991

By Colin Pemul

A unique island ecosystem in Indonesia may vanish within a few months.

Siberut, lying off the west coast of Sumatra, has been geographically isolated for at least half a million years. In 1980 the World Wildlife Fund conducted a study and found that 60% of the animals and 15% of the plant species are peculiar to the island. There are still many plant species yet to be discovered.

There are now proposals to replace up to 250,000 ha of primary rainforest — more than half the island's total area — with palm oil plantations.

Early next year, the Indonesian government plans to move 10,000 families from Sumatra and Java. Already some of the island's 18,000 indigenous people have been instructed to leave their traditional homes and move to a government-supervised resettlement site. In September, officials from the Department of Social Affairs, accompanied by soldiers, "requested" the Sakalio clan to clear a new site and collect wood to build regulation "modern" housing.

The island is considered of such importance that in December 1981 UNESCO accepted it into the Man and Biosphere (MAB) program. It then became a reserve.

Despite the MAB status, logging has been permitted, together with uncontrolled tourism and resettlement of local people. Logging has already destroyed large areas of rainforest and caused extensive soil erosion. Only 90,000 ha are protected — not enough to preserve the island's ecosystem.

A workshop is scheduled next month between government officials, representatives of the indigenous peoples and conservationists to discuss protection of Siberut's environment. The government's actions to move the Sakalio clan, however, raise doubts about what this workshop may be able to achieve.

The Indonesian solidarity group AKSI is asking people to write polite letters to the following officials urging protection for Siberut:

Soegiarto, Minister of Transmigration, Departemen Transmigrasi, Jalan Taman Makam Pahlawan Kalibata No. 17, Jakarta Selatan, Indonesia.

Representative of UNESCO, Jalan Thamrin No. 14, Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia.

General Rudini, Minister of Home Affairs, Departemen Dalam Negeri, Jalan Medan Merdeka Utara No. 7, Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia.

Hasyrul Harajap, Minister of Forestry, Departemen Kehutanan, Gedung Manggala Wanabakti, Jalan Gatot, Subroto, Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia.

Professor Emil Salim, State Minister for Environment and Population, ependudukan dan Lingkungan Hidup, Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat 15, Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia.

Please send copies of any replies to AKSI Brisbane, PO Box 1247, Fortitude Valley 4006.

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