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A Gold Rush East of Bali?

Chinese Gold Mining Operation on Edge of Komodo National Park Brings Protests from Local Community and Catholic Church.

Bali News:
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Early exploration work by a joint Indonesian-Chinese mining venture covering a 2,000 hectare site at Batu Gosok, just 5 kilometers north of the West Manggarai district capital of Labuan Bajo, adjoining the World Heritage Site of the Komodo National Park, is generating widespread international protests from those who fear the proposed mining venture will threaten one of the world's few remaining nature spots home to a number of protected water and land species. Another exploration site, at the nearby village of Tedebo, 10 kilometers east of Labuan Bajo, sits in a protected forest area, home to the headwaters of the Waismese River, a major fresh water river that flows through spectacular canyons before emptying into the Komodo Sea near Labuan Bajo.

The Batu Gosok and Tebedo Gold Mining projects have evoked pointed exchanges in the local press and rare street demonstrations from local citizens against the local regent who is accused of surreptitiously issuing licenses for exploration in violation of local zoning plans without first undertaking the environmental impact studies and public hearings, as required by law.

Among those groups vocal in opposing the mining project are members of the West Flores Tourism Forum and leaders of the Catholic Church, representing the predominant religious grouping in Flores.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ruteng and the self-named Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), headed by Father Max Regus, have drawn firm battle lines with the Regent of West Manggarai, Fidelis Pranda. Citing numerous violations of local law and threats to the local population embodied by the Regent's decision to grant exploration permits, the priests have gone so far as to question the Christian ethics of their fellow Roman Catholic, Fidelis Pranda.

When the Regent vigorously responded by questioning the Church's involvement in temporal affairs, calling the priests "provocateurs" in the mining issue, the protesting priest were joined by Catholic Clergy from across the whole of Flores and a Diaspora of 135 Florenese priests and religious missionaries from more than 35 countries around the world.

The Flores missionaries, citing the danger posed to the island's natural environment and traditional culture, issued an open statement calling for an immediate cessation to all mining activities in Flores and the restoration of any damage caused by mining activities to date.

Flores growing tourism sector has joined the opposition to the Regent's efforts to bring mining to his district. The West Flores Tourism Forum (WFTF), which includes local hotels, tour and dive operators serving Labuan Bajo and the adjacent Komodo National Park, have unanimously condemned the project, labeling mining as incompatible with efforts to create an environmentally sustainable tourism industry in West Flores and Komodo. The Vice Chairman of the WFTF, Marius Sarain, quoted in the Flores Post said: "The stance of the forum is clear and final: we reject mining. This is non-negotiable."

Saridin also pointed to the sad irony of the Indonesian National government's current efforts to have the Komodo National Park named to a list of the seven top natural wonders of the world while, at the same time, a mining project threatening irreparable environmental destruction and pollution of the surrounding seas is being contemplated at the very gateway to the Park.

The general lack of support for the mining project in West Flores, the battle lines now firmly drawn between Regent Pranda and the Catholic Church, and the final disposition of 10 separate pending corruption charges filed against the Regent by district lawmakers with Indonesia's National Anti-Corruption Agency last February may have severely damaged the political fortunes of Fidelis Pranda who must stand for re-election in 2010.

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