By Dave Currey, Environmental Investigation Agency
"We've been badly beaten and now we're with the police" was the opening line from Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigator Faith Doherty's call from the town of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo. This was the start of a three-day kidnap drama that involved logging company-hired thugs, corrupt senior police, helpful and supportive detectives, orangutans, diplomats and the destruction of one of the world's most famous and important National Parks Tanjung Puting.
EIA and Telapak Indonesia launched a campaign to stop the illegal logging in Tanjung Puting National Park last August. This swamp forest is home to wild and rehabilitated orangutans and has been made famous by the work of Biruté Galdikas. In the EIA/Telapak campaign report "The Final Cut" the names of companies and illegal sawmills were made public. At the top of the list came Tanjung Lingga, a company that EIA and Telapak had infiltrated undercover as businessmen in June 1999. This company is owned by a local timber baron, member of the Indonesian Parliament, Abdul Rasyid.
The campaign gained momentum with pressure building from the international community, disillusioned by Indonesia's forestry sector. Our campaign message: "If you can't stop illegal logging in Tanjung Puting, then Indonesia's forests have no future." A newly elected Government was sworn in at the end of October 1999, and the EIA/Telapak campaign was presented to some members of the Parliament.
The international donors to Indonesia are represented in the Consultative Group on Indonesia, bringing forestry issues to the fore. A seminar was organised by the Indonesian Co-ordinating Ministry of Finance and sponsored by the World Bank. The EIA/Telapak campaign video was to be presented by Ruwi, Telapak's Executive Director. Faith and Ruwi were in Tanjung Puting to update the information before the seminar.
Lured to the offices of logging company Tanjung Lingga, Faith and Ruwi were viciously beaten. "They wanted to kill Ruwi" explained Faith. Ruwi was punched to the ground and kicked in the head while Faith's finger was wrenched from its socket and finger ligaments and a tendon broken in a struggle with company officials. A gun was used to threaten them both. Police were called and Faith and Ruwi were taken to hospital, allowed a phone call, and then taken to the detectives' office for statements. They were to stay there under the protection of the detectives for the next two days.
The next morning, a more senior policeman, clearly in cahoots with the logging company, prevented their departure on a scheduled plane. The company unsuccessfully attempted to separate Ruwi from Faith and a hired mob of 50-80 men prevented their departure from the office. Intense action was going on behind the scenes. Telapak sought support in Jakarta through high-level government and military officials, and EIA kept in touch with UK Government officials and the White House. The press was asked to keep quiet during the siege because of fear of endangering Faith and Ruwi.
On Saturday January 22nd, following intense pressure from Jakarta and the personal intervention of the British Ambassador, both Ruwi and Faith were flown to the South Kalimantan city of Banjarmasin in a plane chartered by EIA and Telapak. They were warned that Tanjung Lingga thugs were on their way to Banjarmasin so another plane was chartered to fly them to Jakarta. A last minute attempt by Tanjung Lingga to "buy off" this plane to prevent their departure, failed.
The campaign presentation to the Government of Indonesia and international donors took place on January 26th. The problem of illegal logging under the control of timber barons has been emphasised by this incident. The area is out of control and until the central government can reinstate law and order there can be no hope for the forests, the people and the remarkable creatures so dependent on them.
The Government of Indonesia has promised to deal with illegal logging, but so far the logging continues in Tanjung Puting. The Park headquarters have been destroyed and rangers have evacuated the Park. The latest report is that the Head and Deputy Head of the Park have resigned.
It is difficult for this democratically elected government at a time of economic crisis and civil unrest, but it is vital that they act courageously to defeat the powerful interests destroying Indonesia's priceless forest heritage. This case in Tanjung Puting is complex and politically difficult, but it is clear what must be done. Efforts to investigate this timber baron's fiefdom have so far failed following coercion. But the Government has to follow up while the world is watching.
Tanjung Puting National Park must be saved from the illegal loggers. Please urge His Excellency, the Ambassador of Indonesia, to do everything in his power to stop the destruction.
His address is:
2020 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
For more information on the campaign contact EIA,
1330 New Hampshire Avenue
Washington D.C. 20036
Telephone: (202) 452 8661 or visit EIA's website.