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Indonesian forest people condemn climate scheme
by Staff Writers
Jakarta (AFP) June 22, 2011

Indigenous peoples of Indonesian Borneo on Wednesday demanded a halt to internationally backed forest conservation schemes, saying they are trampling their rights and robbing their lands.

The Central Kalimantan chapter of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance issued a statement condemning the projects, including those being implemented under a $1 billion deal with Norway to cut carbon emissions from deforestation.

The projects, which also involve the Australian government, CARE International and WWF environmental group, fall under a UN-backed conservation drive known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

Indigenous alliance secretary general Abdon Nababan said the rights of traditional landowners had been ignored, and forest-dependent communities faced being driven off their lands or denied their customary livelihoods.

"REDD could be the cause of cultural genocide as most indigenous people live in primary forests and peatland areas" which fall under a forestry moratorium announced by the Indonesian government last month, he told AFP.

"Its implementation will surely drive them away, though they have lived there for hundreds or thousands of years," he added.

Several studies have found that indigenous peoples are good forest managers but Nababan said schemes like REDD -- part of UN talks for post-2012 climate action -- handed control to corporations and environmental groups.

"There is no other choice but to appoint indigenous people as the REDD projects' main actors. They have traditional knowledge in managing and safeguarding our forests over centuries," he said.

The alliance called for an "immediate moratorium" on all REDD projects in Central Kalimantan until various conditions are met, including recognition of the mainly Dayak peoples' "political sovereignty" and "collective rights".

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's top advisor on climate change and REDD issues, Agus Purnomo, said that the group's statement was groundless as the indigenous group will have great authority to monitor its implementation.

"The statement is baseless. I can guarantee that the rights of indigenous people will be protected. We have agreed that the group will be among the REDD's board members with significant power," he told AFP.

Indonesia is often cited as the world's third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, due mainly to rampant deforestation by the palm oil, mining and paper industries.

Central Kalimantan is a heavily forested and resource-rich province with a total area of about 153,000 square kilometres (60,000 square miles), or more than the land mass of Greece.

It has been designated as a test ground for REDD pilot projects, which are key to Indonesia's commitments to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020.

Deforestation is estimated to account for almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In Indonesia it is said to produce more carbon emissions than all the cars, buses, trains and planes in the United States.

But a joint statement issued after a meeting of the indigenous alliance last week said REDD schemes under way in Central Kalimantan were creating "confusion and chaos among indigenous communities".

It said the government and the schemes' backers had ignored their obligations to inform and consult with indigenous peoples whose lives could be dramatically altered by measures to prevent deforestation.

The alliance also demanded the Indonesian government address allegations of massive corruption surrounding forestry concessions.

The forestry ministry admitted in February that less than 20 percent of plantation companies and less than 1.5 percent of mining firms had official operating permits in Central Kalimantan.

It said that out of 352 plantation companies operating in the province, only 67 had permits, while only nine out of 615 mine units were operating legally.

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