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Indonesia's Papua scarred by vanishing forests
JAKARTA, Dec 1 (AFP) Dec 01, 2007
Twenty-five years ago, Papuan tribal leader Ananias Muit was sent from his jungle home to Indonesia's Sumatra island by the local government to learn about lucrative palm oil, and bring it back.

A new short film, "Defenders of the Tribal Boundaries", tells how the arrival of a state-owned plantation company soon afterwards devastated Muit's community in the Arfak mountains of Papua's Bird's Head region.

"'Give us the land and we will give the money to plant,' they said. 'We will bring a palm oil plantation,'" Muit says, repeating the government's promise.

Instead, the forests were cleared, but factory effluent polluted the local river, making the water supply unusable.

"The promise was sweet, but now it is bitter," he laments.

"We were not compensated for our land or even thanked. Now we are really suffering, and we regret it."

The film, one of four locally-made shorts that highlight the shocking impact of deforestation in remote Papua, will be featured at a UN climate change conference on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, which begins next week.

The 10-minute clips, shot by aid workers using handheld digital cameras over the past three months, demonstrate the impact expanding palm oil plantations and other destructive logging is having on local communities.

Indonesia is losing its forests at the world's fastest rate, with some two million hectares (4.9 million acres) disappearing each year, according to environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

Up to 80 percent of logging in Indonesia is estimated to be illegal -- due to a lack of political will to crack down as well as negligible law enforcement -- but the films demonstrate that even legal logging has far-reaching and negative consequences.

In "Tears of Mother Mooi", the people of Sorong issue an impassioned call to the government to revoke the licenses of two palm oil companies operating on their ancestral land.

Startling images of the devastated remnants of formerly forested areas, clear-cut for plantations, hammer home their plea.

Ronny Dimara, a resident in the community and director of Triton, a local non-governmental organisation that produced the film, said most of the footage had to be recorded secretly.

Much of Papua is closely monitored by Indonesia's military, who stand accused by activists of human rights abuses. Journalists require special permission from the Jakarta government to visit the region.

"We played the film in front of about 20 tribal leaders and they said the problem (of the two companies) needed to be addressed soon," Dimara told a press briefing in Jakarta after the films were screened.

"Early next year we will meet again in a bigger group to decide whether we still want the companies in our area."

The third film, "Gaharu: Disaster or Blessing?", shows how the profitable agarwood industry -- known locally as gaharu -- has brought a myriad of social problems to one Papuan district.

Father Dicky Ogi, who leads an organisation working to offer locals better education, said that along with higher incomes came gambling, prostitution and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"Education is key, so the people can judge the benefits of selling their land," he told reporters.

The final piece, "Destiny... My Land", explores how external investors exploited the forests of a local community that had previously lived off the land for generations.

"These films may be local stories but they are very relevant to the national and the international level, so we urge people to watch these films," said Jago Wadley from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an independent campaigning organisation that helped the local groups produce the films.

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