Indonesia Court Refuses To Stop Forest Development Conservationists Say Threatens Orangutans

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By Associated Press, Published: April 3

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — A court in western Indonesia on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit brought by conservationists challenging further development of peat swamp forests they say will threaten the few remaining orangutans who live there.

Indonesia’s largest environmental group, Walhi, wanted the court to revoke a license granted by the Aceh provincial government to palm oil company PT Kallista Alam. The license allows the company to convert 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of the Tripa peat swamp forest into a palm oil plantation.

Three other palm oil companies already operate in the forest. The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program has said that orangutans could disappear from Tripa by the year’s end if palm oil companies keep setting land-clearing fires there.

The Tripa forest — which in the early 1990s was home to around 3,000 Sumatran orangutans — today has just 200. There are 6,600 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, and the Tripa forest has the densest population in the world.

Walhi filed a lawsuit against the head of the Aceh government, Gov. Irwandi Yusuf, arguing that the license given to PT Kallista Alam would cause environmental destruction and loss of habitat for the endangered species.

But a three-judge panel at the Banda Aceh Administrative Court said it had no authority to rule on the case because the parties involved hadn’t tried to solve the case outside of court.

“Walhi’s complaint could not be accepted,” said presiding judge Darmawi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. “We suggest the parties resolve the case outside the court first.”

The pronouncement means the parties could attempt mediation, but Walhi’s lawyer, Kamaruddin, said the group will instead appeal to the high court.

Aceh’s government and PT Kallista Alam welcomed the judges’ decision.

“It gives us confidence that the issuing of the license has been done in accordance with procedure,” said Saifullah, a provincial government official.

Firman Azwan Lubis, a lawyer representing PT Kallista, said the company’s application for the license was legal and “based on comprehensive studies about environmental impacts.”

Beside the lawsuit, people living around Tripa also have asked police to investigate whether any environmental crimes were committed in connection with the issuing of a license to PT Kallista.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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