29 November 2007

SBY plan to curry favour at summit

SBY plan to curry favour at summit

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent | November 30, 2007

INDONESIAN President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered his Forestry Minister to stop awarding logging concessions in an attempt to curry world favour ahead of the United Nations climate change conference in Bali.

However, the besieged minister, Malam Kaban, retorted that existing forestry regulations were "adequate" and called for "interest groups" in Sumatra - including members of a presidential anti-illegal logging task force - to stop "disturbing" commercial operations on the island.

Mr Kaban is already under a cloud for his role in the freeing of an accused illegal logging baron, Adelin Lis, in Sumatra.

Since the Lis decision, Dr Yudhoyono has been under pressure to sideline or sack his minister, who wrote a letter to judges ahead of their verdict assuring them of Mr Lis's proper behaviour.

Police later said it was the strongest case they had ever assembled against an illegal logging operation, and questioned the minister's motives for intervening.

Mr Lis fled, presumably abroad, immediately after being set free; there have been accusations he was assisted in his flight by unnamed high-level figures.

The rapid destruction of Indonesia's 91million hectares of rainforest has made the country one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere - sitting in third place behind the US and China on most assessments.

At a ceremony to mark the beginning of planting 79 million trees across the nation, Dr Yudhoyono described illegal loggers as the "enemies" of the people.

However, in a clear sign that there will be no sanctions against the Suharto-era cronies who made their fortunes ransacking Indonesia's natural resources - many of whom continue to earn vast sums from associated industries such as palm oil production - Dr Yudhoyono urged his audience to "look to the future, not thepast".

Comparing the illegal forestry operations of the past to "a great party" that now required a joint clean-up effort, the President said: "The dishes are dirty, but we are washing them together. Don't get in the way of that - Mr Kaban, please look after Indonesia's forests."

Veteran ecologist Otto Soemarwoto, an outspoken critic of the blind eye turned by former president Suharto to environmental pillage, warned yesterday that while Dr Yudhoyono's warnings sounded like "good policy", there were serious concerns over implementation.

"Everything he has done of late is about facing the upcoming Bali conference," Professor Soemarwoto told The Australian.

"The Forestry Department's track record is terrible. Illegal logging in national parks is obvious - anyone who can't see that is blind. If the destruction continues, this minister (Mr Kaban) must be sacked."

Budiman Sudjatmiko, from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle, warned: "The people have heart and eyes to see: why are there no ministers or former minister's from the Suharto era who are being brought to justice?"

Mr Kaban insisted his department was acting within its guidelines in dealing with forestry concessions, saying that "the rules that exist are, I believe, good enough" and complaining that too many interests were trying to intervene in forest management.

"Leave it to (the Forestry Department) - let's not have interventions from other interests," he insisted. "It clearly disturbs the forest industry, reflects a lack of legal certainty and causes unemployment."

The environmental activist group Greenpeace has been maintaining a "forest defenders camp" in the Sumatran region of Riau, although Mr Kaban would also have been referring to a presidential anti-illegal logging initiative that he has consistently refused to support.

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