More than a million people across the globe have signed an online petition demanding the Indonesian government to cancel the plan to open the protected virgin rainforest in Aceh to commercial exploitation.
Arief Aziz, the communications director for the online petition website Change.org, said in a statement on Saturday that the "#SaveAceh" campaign has been signed by more than 20,000 Indonesians since its launch in March.
Following the massive reaction, Rudi Putra, an environmental activist, started another petition for the same cause on Avaaz.org, which has garnered more than 1.2 million signatures in its first 11 days.
"Aceh rainforests, home to endangered animals like orangutan and Sumatran rhino, have been destroyed by illegal hunters and loggers, but this new exploration will be an ultimate disaster," he said.
Rights groups say the plan will allow around 1.2 million hectares that were previously protected to be cleared. Approval of the plan would open up the forest on the northern tip of Sumatra to mining, paper and palm oil plantations.
The Aceh government banned the granting of new logging permits six years ago to protect the forest, but a new administration that came in last year is in favor of allowing logging again.
"Yudhoyono has the options: to leave an important legacy to protect the rich natural resources or to trash his own track record by allowing this disaster," Avaaz' campaign director Ian Baasin said.
Jakarta has signaled it will sign off on Aceh's plan in the coming weeks, even as it is expected to extend the moratorium on new logging permits which expires on Monday and has been in force for two years.
There is also strong support in the Aceh parliament which has the final say, and officials say they hope it will pass soon.
Although it seems to fly in the face of the national moratorium, the project is possible because it hinges on Aceh's decision to overturn its own deforestation ban which was introduced at the local level six years ago.
The ban, stronger than the national measure, was brought in by the previous local administration – but it will be scrapped under the plan. (JG & AFP)