Indonesia: NO to a gold mine in Sumatra’s tiger forest!

View of the rainforest from above Gold miners have no business in the Leuser Ecosystem, the most important refuge for the Sumatran tigers! (© Junaidi Hanafiah) Aerial photo of track through forest Access roads for gold mines have been cut into the forest near Beutong (© Junaidi Hanafiah) River flowing through a village, mountains in the background Crystal clear – the Meureubo River in Beutong (© Junaidi Hanafiah) Children playing in the river Children enjoy a refreshing dip in the Meureubo River (© Junaidi Hanafiah) NO to EMM in capital letters on the shirts of nine protesters 2019 protest against the first gold mining company, EMM (© Junaidi Hanafiah)

A proposed gold mine threatens the Leuser Ecosystem the last great rainforest in Southeast Asia. Leuser is the last place on Earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans share the same habitat. Please support the environmentalists on Sumatra who are working to stop the mining companies.

Call to action

To: Acting Governor of Aceh Achmad Marzuki, Ministry of Mineral Resources, Parliament of Aceh

“Beutong Ateuh Banggalang must not be declared a mining zone!”

Read letter

The rainforest in Beutong district is lush, and the Meureubo River is refreshingly clear. “We live off the river, drinking its water and using it to irrigate our fields and gardens,” says Malikul Azis, headmaster of a local school.

But the forest, the river and people’s lives are under threat: A gold mine is planned for the area. That would mean cutting down thousands of hectares of rainforest.

Beutong lies in a valley at the foot of the 2,800-meter Singgah Mata mountain in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem. This last great rainforest of Southeast Asia is famous for its biodiversity. It is the last place on Earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans share the same habitat. The mountains are rich in minerals, gems and gold – and this buried wealth is a curse.

While the area is formally protected, the attacks never stop, and the residents of Beutong are experiencing this firsthand. For years, they battled PT. Emas Mineral Murni (EMM), a mining company. Their staunch resistance paid off, and in 2021 the Indonesian Supreme Court withdrew the company’s permit.

But now another company, PT. Bumi Mentari Energi (BME), has applied for a permit to mine gold. 3,300 hectares of the proposed mine are in Beutong district.

We are against any form of mining, whether permitted or not.”

 ...says Zakaria, spokesman for the Beutong residents. They have organized and are unanimously opposed not only to BME’s proposed gold mine, but to any kind of mining in their district.

The environmentalists are working tirelessly to stop the destruction of their homeland by logging or mining. But broad international support will be needed to stop the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem and the valley at the foot of Mount Singgah Mata.

Please sign our petition in support of our partners on the ground.

Back­ground

The Leuser Ecosystem

The Leuser Ecosystem (Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, KEL) on the island of Sumatra is one of the largest and most important protected areas in Indonesia.  KEL, which is almost entirely within the autonomous province of Aceh, is named after its highest mountain, Gunung Leuser (3,404 meters).

Leuser is famous for its wildlife, being the last place on Earth where four iconic mammals – the orangutan (Pongo abelii), the very rare Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatera), the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and the Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) share the same habitat. Most of the last 400 Sumatran tigers are found here. Only a few individuals of the Sumatran rhinoceros remain.

Clouded leopards, Malayan honey bears, marbled cats, wild dogs and numerous species of monkeys share the terrain with the large mammals. In total, there are 105 species of mammals, 382 species of birds and 95 species of reptiles and amphibians. Species that have become rare in Southeast Asia have their last refuge here.

The number of plant species can only be estimated. 8,500 have been documented, including the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, and valuable tropical trees such as the meranti.

Read more about the Leuser Ecosystem on Sumatra

Beutong Ateuh Banggalang district 

is located about 50 km from the west coast in a valley surrounded by high mountains. The forest there is largely intact. The people grow rice and vegetables for their own consumption, as well as Kemiri nuts (from the Aleurites moluccanus tree), chili and fruit, all without pesticides or artificial fertilizers. 

Earthquakes, floods and landslides are common risks. So far, the local communities have been able to prevent mining operations, except for access roads cut into the forest by a mining company. Residents unanimously agree that this should remain the case. “Otherwise, all that will remain of Beutong on the Meureubo will be a name in the history books.”

Beutong’s place in history is secured by Cut Nyak Dhien, a woman who is revered as a resistance fighter against the forces of the Dutch colonialists. In 1873, the Dutch started a bloody war to incorporate Aceh into their colonial empire. In 1899, Dutch troops attacked Cut Nyak Dhien’s headquarters in Beutong.

A hundred years later, in 1999, Indonesian troops killed dozens of civilians there, ostensibly to fight the GAM independence movement and the marijuana trade.

This tragedy is deeply embedded in the memories of the people of Beutong. It is also documented in UN reports and in the extensive almanac on human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian security sector.

Gold diggers and the Supreme Court

In 2019, Emas Mineral Murni (EMM) was granted a permit for a gold mine on 10,000 hectares of the Beutong forest.

Gold mining means destroying forests and polluting waterways with cyanide, mercury, heavy metals, arsenic and sediments.

Local peoples’ protests fell on deaf ears, so they turned to the courts. In 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the citizens’ initiative and revoked EMM’s permit on the grounds that a mine would violate the Spatial Planning Act. The court also noted that Beutong is the most important historical site in Aceh province. A success for the resistance to mining!

But the danger is not over, as a new company, Bumi Mentari Energi (BME), is now emerging to exploit the gold and copper deposits. The mine, if realized, would be right in the middle of the settlement area around the Meureubo River.

The resistance and the power of the oligarchy

According to our partners on the ground and research by Mongabay, BME appears to be trying to undermine the protected status of the area. If the mine were not in the forest, but in the settlement area of veterans of the GAM independence movement, it would out of the protected forest zone and the habitat of endangered wildlife, and in the zone of use.

The basis for an operating permit is, firstly, a decree of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources of 2022. It defines the mining zones for Aceh Province – both active mines and mineral deposits. The gold and copper deposits in Beutong are also covered by the decree.

Secondly, the province’s Spatial Planning Act governs mining in the Leuser Ecosystem. The act is currently under review, and a new decision must be made by 2024. The draft makes no mention of the Leuser Ecosystem’s protected status, and local environmentalists are sounding the alarm. There is a danger that only the national park at the center of the Leuser Ecosystem will be protected. But the entire ecosystem – and not just the mountain range at its center – is the habitat of the “Big Four”: elephant, tiger, rhinoceros and orangutan.

If have not already done so, please also sign an older petition of ours supporting our partners in the campaign to revise the Spatial Planning Act: Protect Leuser's iconic wildlife.

The people of Beutong are staunchly opposed to mining. But they report manipulation, threats and attempts to sow social conflict and division in their village communities. They also tell of pressure and attempts to persuade them with arguments about village development, economic growth and the integration of former GAM fighters.

In a joint statement on behalf of the entire population to the Governor, the President of Indonesia, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, the Parliament and the institutions of Aceh Province, they declare that they “reject Bumi Mentari Energi (BME) and similar companies that want to operate in our territory or establish mines.” The statement is signed by the heads of the four villages, the imam and the district chief. We have published the original statement on our Indonesian-language site here.

“Actually,” says Nasir Buloh of the environmental organization WALHI Aceh, “the Supreme Court ruling means that there can be no mining at all in Beutong. If there is one thing that is really needed in the villages, it is improved farming methods for their gardens and fields.”

This is not just about traditional rice farming versus gold mining or rainforest conservation versus economic growth. It is also about how political and economic interests are enforced.

Kharil of the Coalition for Human Rights warns the government not to use the military or terror to advance its interests. 

The fear of violence by oligarch-controlled security forces and a repeat of the region’s bloody history is as great as the fear of environmental destruction caused by gold mining.

Letter

To: Acting Governor of Aceh Achmad Marzuki, Ministry of Mineral Resources, Parliament of Aceh

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We were shocked to learn that PT. Bumi Mentari Energi (BME) intends to obtain a permit to mine gold in Beutong Ateuh Banggalang. Gold mining in the ecologically vital Leuser Ecosystem is a disaster for the people of Beutong Ateuh Banggalang, for the protection of the environment, and indeed for all people on our planet.

In 2013, the people of Beutong Ateuh Banggalang unanimously decided to reject gold mining in their area. In 2023, Muspika (the advisory body of the district, province, police and military) joined forces with the entire population against PT. Bumi Mentari Energi and other companies that want to mine in Beutong Ateuh Banggalang.

The people have the right to raise their voices against destructive projects. They have the right to free, prior and informed consent. We support the resistance of the people of Beutong because the Leuser Ecosystem is vital to the continued existence of life on our planet.

The government of Aceh must consider the region’s historical value, ecological importance, biodiversity and the prevention of environmental disasters. This is essential for the people of Beutong Ateuh Banggalang to continue to live according to their traditions and in harmony with nature.

Together with the local people, we call on you to:

> Exclude Beutong Ateuh Banggalang from mining zones!

> Save Beutong Ateuh Banggalang from the threat of mining!

Yours faithfully, 

Footnotes

PT. Emas Mineral Murni (EMM)

In 2018, EMM was granted a permit to mine gold and copper in 10,000 hectares of forest. The permit was to be valid for 20 years, with an option to extend to 40 years. 

Asiamet Resources Limited, a company listed on the London Stock Exchange, owns 80 percent of EMM. Asiamet is funded by investors from Indonesia, China, Sweden and other countries.


PT. Bumi Mentari Energi (BME)Little is known about BME. The controversial permit covers 3,300 hectares in the settlement area of four villages.

This petition is also available in the following languages:

78,916 supporters

Help us reach 100,000:

Recent activity

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Stay in the loop on rainforest conservation issues with our free newsletter!