Indonesian police stop Greenpeace forest protest

AP News
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Posted: Nov 26, 2009 8:01 AM

Police broke up a protest by the environmental group Greenpeace against deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Thursday, arresting 12 foreign and six Indonesian demonstrators, an official and an activist said.

The protesters had chained themselves to cranes at a paper mill. Authorities deported seven of the foreigners, and the other five were expelled from the province, but allowed to stay in Indonesia, said Jumintar Lubis, head of immigration in the Riau province where the demonstration took place.

The protests come ahead of a U.N. climate change conference in Denmark next month. Activists say Indonesia's once abundant forests are rapidly being destroyed, contributing to global warming and threatening endangered wildlife as well as the livelihood of local tribes.

Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of heat-trapping carbon gases in the world after the United States and China. Slash-and-burn land clearing is used to make way for oil palm plantations, mines and commercial development.

Greenpeace spokesman Martin Baker said police began the arrests on Wednesday, when they disrupted work at the independent paper mill, which works for Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world's leading pulp and paper producers.

The last four activists were forced down from their crane on Thursday, he said.

Police questioned the 12 foreign activists from Australia, Canada, the United States and other European and Asian countries mainly about their visas, Baker said. They all entered Indonesia on 60-day business visas earlier this month. Police are also questioning the six Indonesian activists.

"They are deported because they have violated immigration law, coming as visitors but taking part in a protest," Lubis said. He did not explain why some foreigners were not deported.

A similar confrontation near land owned by another paper company ended with Indonesian authorities deporting 13 environmentalists and two journalists last week.

"We are highlighting that stopping deforestation is the quickest way to halt greenhouse gas emissions," Baker said. "There has been a lot of pressure from the company and police to get rid of us."

Asia Pulp and Paper has called for "a responsible and open dialogue" with the activists, saying it has taken steps to protect the environment.

The company said it has allocated around 445,000 acres (180,000 hectares) for conservation.

"Despite Greenpeace's dangerous and allegedly illegal activity today, we understand their concerns regarding the need to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions," the company said in a statement Wednesday.

Greenpeace set up a camp in the remote western province a month ago to protest the rapid destruction of peat forests in the area.

Police have also charged 21 other Indonesian activists since last week with trespassing on private property. Dozens more have been questioned.