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JAKARTA, Indonesia (August 1, 2002 - The Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---The government has asked U.S.-based copper and gold mining company PT Freeport Indonesia to immediately deal with the pollution emanating from its mines near the Papuan towns of Tembagapura and Timika.

It said that thousands of locals living along two main rivers where the company dumped its wastewater were under threat from numerous diseases because of the river pollution.

Muh. Ali Kastella, chief of the provincial office of the Waste Management Board (Bapedalda), confirmed in Jayapura on Wednesday that Governor Jaap P. Solossa has delivered an official letter to Freeport, asking the company's management to deal with the pollution immediately and to also be transparent about its waste management procedures.

He said the governor's letter was sent following an instruction from Minister of the Environment Nabiel Makarim that Freeport be warned about the pollution.

The governor also asked Freeport to explain how its waste was treated before being discharged into the rivers. The company was asked to redesign its work program to resolve problems with its tailing dump and to reduce discharges into the rivers as part of the effort to maintain the ecological stability of nearby mangrove forests.

Besides, the company was also asked to speed up its reclamation work to 150 hectares (375 acres) annually from the current target of 75 hectares (187.5 acres), and furnish accurate information to the public on the company's environmental vision and mission through the print and electronic media.

Kastella explained that the environment minister had asked the governor to review the permit issued by the provincial administration to the company allowing it to dump tailing material into the rivers.

"Freeport has also been asked to explain its environmental programs and their implementation to the Papua provincial administration," he said as quoted by Antara.

Numerous informal leaders have expressed their deep concern over the river pollution, saying the government should fine the company as its waste was polluting rivers, which served as water sources for the indigenous people in the area.

Markus A. Pogolamum, one of the informal leaders, regretted that Freeport had been mining the province's copper and gold deposits for years but still did not hesitate to make the locals the victims of its mining operations.

Local people could do nothing if the government failed to control the giant mining company, he said.

Last August, the South Jakarta District Court declared Freeport guilty of violating the environmental law as a result of the Grasberg incident in 2000. The court ruled that the company had disseminated misleading information about its waste management activities and had failed to prevent the collapse of its waste heap at Lake Wanagon near its copper and gold mines in Grasberg, Mimika Regency. The incident claimed four lives.

The lawsuit was filed by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). The environmental organization has also sued Freeport over the river pollution but the case has yet to go to trial.

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