JAKARTA, Indonesia (The Jakarta Post/Irian, Jan. 28) - The government is preparing a number of possible measures in an attempt to curb the issuance of forest concessions and to crack down on illegal loggers amid rising international criticism.

The criticism culminated last week when the largest donors expressed outrage over the increased deforestation and the lack of prevention.

As part of the actions, early next month, Minister of Forestry M. Prakosa will have a tour of several "defiant" regencies in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua, which continue to issue forest concessions in violation of a central government regulation.

Prakosa will seek to convince the regents that aside from violating the regulation, their actions were not good for the nation's forests, according to the ministry’s spokesman, Tachrir Fathoni.

"The visit is aimed at bridging the gap between the ministry and the local administrations in their interpretations of the current forestry law and regulations," said Tachrir.

The ministry was hoping, through the persuasive approach, the regents would stop issuing the licenses, Tachrir said.

As reported earlier, many regencies are continuing, at a very fast pace, to give "certain people" hundreds of timber concession licenses to earn as much income as possible before the government decides it might actually enforce its own regulations. The ministry issued the decree in 2001, declaring the sale of concessions illegal.

The ministry's data shows that the licenses issued by the regencies over the past two years covered an estimated total area of over 2 million hectares.

The ministry claims to be powerless to control the "defiant" regencies, because there is a distinct lack of support from an enforcement standpoint.

Also next month, Tachrir said, the ministry would launch a joint operation with the Army and the Navy to raid all sawmills suspected of processing illegal logs.

The action was part of the agreement signed by the Indonesian Military's (TNI) Commander Endriartono Sutarto and Prakosa last week to forge cooperation in cracking down on the rampant illegal logging, which is reportedly a great source of revenue for the police and military.

The operation, said Tachrir, would target "sensitive" areas in Kalimantan and Papua, bordering Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, which are notorious for illegal activities.

On top of that, Tachrir said, to boost coordination among the governmental agencies in dealing with the forestry problem, the government would soon issue a presidential decree, which could specifically address the illegal exploitation of the forests.

"The ministry has completed the draft of the decree and will soon submit it to the President for approval," said Tachrir.

He added that the decree, which was expected to be issued within the next few months, would contain a long-term action plan to prevent illegal forest exploitation.

Illegal forest exploitation has reached an alarming level, to the point that donor countries grouped in the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) as well as international organizations, strongly criticized the government in its meeting last week in Bali.

According to the ministry's data, Indonesia lost a total of 2.1 million hectares of natural forest last year, as against the annual depletion rate of 1.6 million hectare five to ten years ago.

January 29, 2003

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