Indonesia makes startling admission on forests



Indonesia admitted Tuesday that hundreds of mine and plantation companies are operating illegally on Borneo island, and promised to beef up law enforcement to protect forests and threatened species.

The forestry ministry made the startling admission that less than 20 percent of plantation companies and less than 1.5 percent of mining firms had official operating permits in Central Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo.

"There are only 67 plantation companies out of 352 that operate legally in Central Kalimantan province, while there are only nine out of 615 mine units that operate legally," the ministry said in a statement.

The findings were released after an investigation by a task force set up by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to look into the "forest mafia" -- networks of miners, planters and officials blamed for rampant illegal land clearing.

It found that violations of laws designed to protect Indonesia's forests, home to endangered species such as orangutans and tigers, had "become widespread in a number of regions, especially in Central Kalimantan province".

Indonesia is the world's third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, due mainly to deforestation by the palm oil and paper industries, which is fuelled by corruption.

A University of Indonesia study last year concluded that the Indonesian military acted as coordinator, financier and facilitator for illegal loggers in Borneo, where deforestation rates are among the fastest in the world.

The forestry ministry promised to stop issuing new plantation and mine permits in the province and to cooperate with the Corruption Eradication Commission to enforce the law.

Yudhoyono has been under pressure from environmentalists to implement a promised two-year moratorium on the clearing of natural forest and peatland, which was due to begin January 1.