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Aceh Jaya residents demand revocation of logging permits

Jakarta Post - April 17, 2006

Nani Afrida, Banda Aceh – Residents in Aceh Jaya regency have urged the government to suspend the reissuance of three forest concession permits intended to facilitate the Aceh reconstruction program in the area for not accommodating people's aspirations living around the forests.

"We live near the forests, and if anything goes wrong, we are the first to bear the brunt of it," head of the Aceh Jaya Community Union, Syarifuddin told The Jakarta Post.

Syarifuddin expressed regret over the government's decision to reissue the permits without consulting local residents because Aceh Jaya residents have been suffering from the impact of rampant logging activities there.

"Many rivers have dried up, and when it rains for just a short time, it floods almost immediately, particularly in Teunom and Krueng Sabee districts in Aceh Jaya," said Syarifuddin.

He suggested that forest concessions be replaced with community forests, in which area residents decide which forests can be logged and at the same time protect them.

"It has often been seen that forest concessions only bring disadvantages as a result of the arbitrary cutting of trees," added Syarifuddin.

Residents from six districts in Aceh Jaya will meet from April 24 to 29 to discuss the permit issuance and formulate a community logging scheme applying mechanisms and systems closely supervised by the community.

The forests in Aceh Jaya are in a dire state now and the government must be more prudent in making decisions that relate to environmental issues, Syarifuddin continued.

The government had previously issued logging permits to five companies in Aceh to exploit 367,550 hectares of production forests to expedite the Aceh reconstruction program.

Aceh has only 600,000 hectares of production forests remaining. The Aceh office of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) deplored the decision of the provincial forestry office for not acquiring the latest data on the remaining area of production forests.

"We know that illegal logging continues unabated, so the figure of 600,000 hectares is no longer relevant," said Dewa Gumay from Walhi.

Wahli has proposed the use of confiscated timber – with volumes reaching 7 million cubic meters throughout the country – for the Aceh reconstruction program. Aceh alone has 50,000 cu.m. of timber seized during illegal logging operations.

"The government should use the seized timber for the reconstruction program. Opening up forest concessions is not a good idea due to the adverse impact it will have on the community," Dewa added.