NGO sues Aceh official over cement factory permit in Leuser Ecosystem

An NGO is suing an Indonesian district head for permitting a cement factory to operate in the nationally protected Leuser Ecosystem, one of Southeast Asia’s last great swaths of intact rainforest.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) filed the lawsuit against Aceh Tamiang district head Hamdan Sati at the Banda Aceh Administrative Court on Thursday.

The company in question is PT Tripa Semen Aceh. It holds a license to establish a factory and a mine on 2,549 hectares of land in Kaloy village, in Aceh Tamiang’s Tamiang Hulu subdistrict.

Walhi alleges that the license violates a number of laws and ministerial decrees. These include the 2015 Aceh Government Law, which states that the management of the Leuser Ecosystem must adhere to certain principles of sustainable use, and a 2014 energy ministry decree on mining.

The NGO further contends that the company will exacerbate Aceh Tamiang’s water problems. Oil palm plantations have been established in water catchment areas in such a way as to cause both flooding, which is the result of upstream deforestation, and water scarcity. In 2006, the district was hit with a deluge so devastating it was termed a “second tsunami,” after the disaster that struck Aceh province in 2004.

If the cement firm is allowed to operate, the community’s clean water will be lost, drained not just by oil palm plantations but also by the cement plant.

Muhammad Nasir, chief, Walhi Aceh

Tamiang Hulu subdistrict is already home to oil palm plantations covering more than 7,400 hectares, controlled by six companies, according to Walhi. So too is Aceh Tamiang rife with illegal plantations.

“If the cement firm is allowed to operate, the community’s clean water will be lost, drained not just by oil palm plantations but also by the cement plant,” Walhi Aceh advocacy chief Muhammad Nasir said.

Conserving Leuser, a nationally protected area, has not always had the support of the Aceh provincial officials, which enjoys special autonomy in the wake of a decades-long separatist war that ended in 2005. In 2013, the Aceh government passed a zoning plan that made no mention of Leuser, prompting a lawsuit filed by local civil society and indigenous groups. The EU has also lobbied the Aceh administration to revise the plan.

Leuser is the only place on earth where Sumatran tigers, orangutans, rhinos and elephants coexist in the wild. It became an international story in April when Hollywood actor and environmental advocate Leonardo DiCaprio visited the forest there, prompting an outcry from some Indonesian officials who threatened to deport him.

This story was published with permission from

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