Cambodia: Mother Nature Questions Singapore Ambassador Over Dredging

Chea Takihiro and James Reddick Khmer Times
6 Jan 16;

Two environmental groups submitted a request yesterday for a meeting with the ambassador of Singapore to address the city-state’s imports of sand dredged off the Cambodian coast. Environmental groups and villagers have been decrying dredging in Koh Kong province for more than a decade, and have long pointed the finger at Singapore for its appetite for sand.

In a letter addressed to Ambassador Kevin Cheok, NGOs Mother Nature and the Cambodian Youth Network laid out a series of questions for the ambassador to address. Among them, they ask if the Singapore government is still purchasing sand, how much they have imported since 2008, which private companies the authorities have bought sand from and if there is any regulation of sand imports within the country.

The request cites a November 16 letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen, sent to the National Assembly, which acknowledged that dredging was primarily conducted for export. ‘

“Because we don’t have the market in the country, that’s why we send it abroad,” he wrote, without identifying the destination of exports. Rejecting a claim by opposition lawmaker Son Chhay that dredging companies were Vietnamese, he wrote that the two companies granted dredging licenses, International Rainbow and Direct Assess Co. Ltd, are locally owned. They were given permits despite a 2011 ban on dredging. Mr. Hun Sen downplayed environmental concerns, saying that the dredging is actually having a positive impact on nearby residents.

“The government is thinking about restoring rivers and lakes congested by mud and sand to facilitate water traffic and transportation,” he wrote, adding that dredging can help reduce the risk of flooding. The NGOs’ letter asserted that, despite the prime minister’s assessment, the dredging was wreaking havoc on the ecosystem.

“Fishing communities remain deeply concerned that the ongoing sand mining operations in Koh Kong’s estuaries and creeks continues to cause serious impacts on their livelihoods, due to a decrease in fisheries and other environmental impacts,” they wrote.

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Malaysia imposes 3-month ban on bauxite mining; may dent China stockpiles

* To ban bauxite mining for three months, effective Jan. 15
* To also freeze new bauxite export permits for the period
* Malaysia warns ban could be extended if firms do not comply (Recasts, adds trader and analyst comment)
Rozanna Latiff Reuters 6 Jan 16;

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Malaysia imposed a three-month ban on bauxite mining following an alarm over its environmental impact, in a move that could dent stockpiles at the world's biggest buyer of the aluminium-making ingredient, China.

Malaysia's largely unregulated bauxite mining industry has boomed in the past two years to meet demand from top aluminium producer China, but the frenetic pace of digging has led to a public outcry with many complaining of water contamination and destruction of the environment.

Just last month, bauxite mining was blamed for turning the waters and seas red near Kuantan, the capital of Malaysia's third-largest state and key bauxite producer Pahang.

"Everything (bauxite mining) will come to a complete stop on Jan. 15," said Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Malaysia's natural resources and environment minister. The ban may be extended if mining firms do not comply with regulations, he cautioned.

In the first month, stockpiles at the Kuantan port will be cleared and cleaning facilities will be installed, while in the second month, stockpiles in 11 other locations will be cleared, Wan Junaidi said on Wednesday.

Regulations will be imposed on the transport of bauxite as well as cleaning of mining sites, the minister said.

"The Cabinet has decided to leave it to the industry to take measures to protect the environment. But if they cannot do what we, the federal and state governments, want them to do, then we will have no choice but to extend the moratorium."

Malaysia will also freeze new bauxite export permits for the three months, although existing permit holders can export from their stocks over the period.

"I see little to no impact on China (aluminium production), unless things change at the end of the three months," said Paul Adkins, managing director of Beijing-based consultancy AZ China. "Exports will continue, using the stockpile at port."

The three-month mining ban could shave about 6 million tonnes off China's current bauxite stockpiles of around 25-30 million tonnes, Adkins said earlier this week.

Malaysia accounted for over 40 percent of China's 49 million tonnes of bauxite imports across January to November last year. In 2013, it had shipped only 162,000 tonnes to China.

The Southeast Asian nation has been exporting increasing amounts of the raw material to China, filling in a supply gap after Indonesia banned bauxite exports in early 2014.

While a longer Malaysian mining ban could prompt China to look to other suppliers such as Australia or India for bauxite imports, industry participants do not expect Malaysia to extend the ban as bauxite mining brings in a lot of revenue.

"In the short-term, the ban will be a heavy blow to the industry. But in the long run, with proper procedures and if everyone can do it in the right way, bauxite mining should be a good thing," said Johnny Wong, director at Kuantan-based bauxite miner Ideal Mineral Resources Bhd. (Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne, writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Malaysia to Ban Bauxite Mining for 3 Months to Cut Pollution
* Country supplied more than 40% of China's imports last year
* Suspension starts Jan. 15 as government seeks to tighten rules
Anuradha Raghu and Ranjeetha Pakiam Bloomberg 6 Jan 16;

Malaysia, the biggest shipper of bauxite to China, will stop mining ore for three months to cut river and sea pollution, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said.

The ban takes effect from Jan. 15 in Pahang, the largest producing state, Wan Junaidi told reporters. Exports will be allowed during the moratorium to reduce port inventories, and after the suspension the government will limit bauxite production to the capacity to ship the material, he said on Wednesday.

Malaysia supplied more than 40 percent of China’s imports of the aluminum-making raw material last year after Indonesia imposed a ban on shipments in January 2014. China produces about half the world’s aluminum used in everything from aircraft to door frames and drink cans. The country’s exports of the metal and its products surged 36 percent in November from the previous month, helping push global prices down 19 percent in 2015.

The ban would have to last longer than six months before it starts to hurt China, said Paul Adkins, managing director of consultancy AZ China Ltd. “I doubt there will be much of a price spike reaction. The market is acutely aware that Chinese smelters appear to be slowing down, and with so much material in stockpile, there will be no interest by Chinese buyers to pay more.”

Water Resources

Red dust from trucks carrying ore to Kuantan port had blanketed roads, trees and plants, threatening air purity and water resources, said Fuziah Salleh, member of parliament for Kuantan, capital of Pahang. The government should suspend exports until proper laws are in place to ensure mining is sustainable and to curb illegal operations, she said Tuesday.

“Things are just out of control at the moment,” Fuziah said. “I’m very concerned that the damage may be irreversible.”

All the inventories at Kuantan port have to be exported or moved to a central area equipped with proper drainage, washing bays and filtration, Wan Junaidi, the minister, said in Kuala Lumpur. The government will extend the moratorium if industry fails to take the necessary steps within three months, he said. The central stockpile will only be accessible to legal miners, preventing illicit operations, he said.

Malaysia supplied 21 million metric tons of China’s imports of 49 million tons in the first 11 months of 2015, according to Chinese customs. While the government is allowing shipments under existing permits, it has stopped issuing new export licenses, the ministry said. After the three-month mining ban, the provision of new permits will be limited to port capacity, it said.

The north-eastern state of Terengganu already froze new bauxite mining applications in September, citing environmental concerns.

Malaysia to Ban Bauxite Mining for Three Months
Malaysia will place a temporary ban on aluminum-rich bauxite in response to pollution concerns in the state of Pahang
BIMAN MUKHERJI and CELINE FERNANDEZ Asian Wall Street Journal 6 Jan 16;

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Malaysia on Wednesday imposed a three-month ban on bauxite mining beginning later this month amid worries over its environmental impact, potentially affecting exports of the aluminum-making ore to Chinese smelters.

Malaysia emerged last year as a major provider of bauxite after leading producer Indonesia banned ore exports to encourage more processing at home. From January to November, Malaysia exported some 20 million metric tons of bauxite to China, the world’s biggest aluminum producer. That was nearly half China’s total bauxite imports and a sharp increase from 3.25 million tons in the same period in 2014.

Industry experts had earlier said Malaysia’s entry into the industry was a game-changer, opening a new source of bauxite to meet demand for aluminum, a metal used in cars and beverage cans that is often valued for its environmentally friendly properties.

But concerns about flimsy regulation and a lack of environmental safeguards on bauxite mining were heightened last week after environmentalists and residents blamed waste from the extraction process for polluting the waters off eastern Malaysia after days of torrential rains.

“Beginning 15 January, everything will come to a standstill,” Malaysia’s natural resources and environment minister, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, told a news conference.

Mr. Wan Junaidi said the government would also freeze new permits for the export of bauxite for three months.

The recent rainstorms led to a sharp increase in the runoff from washed ore leaching into the river systems in Pahang state, where the bulk of the mining takes place.

Environmentalists have said the runoff has increased the risk of contamination of seafood caught in the area around the town of Kuantan, as well as blighting one of the country’s most popular tourism destinations.

The residue from bauxite mining, a red sludge, can include naturally occurring chemicals and minerals such as arsenic and mercury, and heavy metals including strontium and cesium. Residents in Kuantan have complained of skin inflammation and deteriorating air quality because of the way in which waste from mining is handled.

It isn’t yet clear how the ban would affect Malaysia’s exports over the longer term. Any disruption in supplies would probably force Chinese producers to turn to higher-cost suppliers in Australia and India, said Ivan Szpakowski, head of Asia commodities research at Citi.

“China will continue to export aluminum products, though this will make them slightly less competitive,” he said.

A Chinese aluminum-industry executive said any impact from Malaysia’s decision may take a while to play out as China still has substantial stockpiles of bauxite imported from Indonesia before that country’s export ban.

Chinese producers of certain metals including aluminum have recently stepped up exports as domestic consumption has slowed, which in turn has suppressed international prices. Three-month aluminum prices on the London Metal Exchange were trading Wednesday at $1,468.50 a ton, close to a six-year low touched last year.

Malaysian bauxite exports to China are cheaper than those from rivals such as Australia, but considered to be of poorer quality. Some of the larger mining companies in Malaysia’s highly fragmented industry have bought better quality equipment in response, to reduce pollution and to dig out higher-quality bauxite.

Even if Malaysia were to follow Indonesia by banning bauxite outright, it is unlikely to spur investment in the ore’s processing within the country, Citi’s Mr. Szpakowski said.

“There is little incentive for a producer to invest in refining of the metal in the country, as at the current pace of mining Malaysia is likely to exhaust its bauxite reserves in less than 10 years,” he said.

Any demand from China is likely positive for Australian mining companies, which are the second-largest suppliers to China. Malaysia’s temporary export ban comes just weeks after mining giant Rio Tinto approved a $1.9 billion Amrun bauxite project in Australia, betting Chinese demand for the commodity would rise.

The apparent ease with which many companies have obtained licenses to mine bauxite in Malaysia has stirred concerns about the long-term impact of the industry.

At present, there are 22 legal mine operators in the state of Pahang, with an unknown number of illegal mining companies, officials said. Malaysia’s government last week stopped approving new permits to export bauxite, and these licenses will be subject to more stringent scrutiny when they resume being issued.

“We are trying to find a permanent solution, but a permanent solution needs time,” Pahang Chief Minister Adnan Yaakob said.

—Kersten Zhang in Beijing and Rhiannon Hoyle in Sydney contributed to this article.

China fuels red boom in global bauxite trade
RAZAK AHMAD The Star 7 Jan 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is a small player in the global bauxite industry but strong demand from China has fuelled a red boom in the country.

Bauxite is processed into aluminium oxide or alumina before being smelted to extract aluminium, which is used in all kinds of products ranging from packaging to aeroplanes.

In 2013, Malaysia reportedly produced 208,770 tonnes of bauxite, a tiny figure compared to world leader Australia which produced 81 million tonnes.

The following year saw a three-fold jump in Malaysia’s production to 962,799 tonnes, according to figures from the Minerals and Geoscience Department.

Last year, Malaysia produced an estimated 20 million tonnes to overtake Australia as the biggest bauxite exporter to China.

The staggering jump in production is partly to fill a void left by Indonesia which restricted exports in 2014 to compel local companies to develop smelters, add value and create more jobs.

Strong demand from China over the past few years has made bauxite mining a lucrative business in Malaysia.

Mining operations have, however, left many areas covered in red dust and created worries about river and sea water contamination.

Despite the big profits, questions have been raised on how long the current bauxite boom can last.

Reuters reported that the price of aluminium fell last November to its lowest in six years as China’s economic growth slowed, creating an oversupply.

It has also been noted that Malaysia has a relatively small reserve of bauxite.

Bloomberg quoted mining company Rio Tinto Group’s chief executive officer for aluminium Alf Barrios as saying that “Malaysia can only maintain its current level of production for another three or four years before its reserves run out”.

The Minerals and Geoscience Department in its 2014 Compendium states that Malaysia’s aluminium/bauxite reserves currently stand at 18 million metric tonnes valued at RM1bil.

Researcher: Long-term exposure to bauxite dust can lead to Alzheimer
The Star 6 Jan 16;

KUANTAN: Long-term exposure to bauxite dust can lead to miners and residents living along transport routes developing Alzheimer's disease, said Research fellow at Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin's (UniSZA) Air Quality Division of the East Coast Environmental Research Institute, Dr Azman Azid.

He said bauxite contained aluminium hydroxide and if inhaled, the bauxite dust, which is released into the air over a long period of time, could block the oxygen supply to the blood and nervous system.

"When the brain does not get sufficient oxygen, a person is exposed to the risk of Alzheimers or suffer memory loss," he told Bernama when contacted here today.

He said, based on a study conducted by the institute at several affected areas in the last few months including at the Bukit Goh Tahfiz School, located near the main bauxite transport routes, found that the air pollution there had exceeded the hazardous level and recorded an Air Pollutant Index reading of 468.

Azman described the air pollution in the area as serious and he estimated that the suspended particles less than 10 microns had reached levels over 200 ug/m3 (microgrammes per cubic metre), exceeding the standards set by the Malaysian Ambient Air Quality Guidelines of 150 ug/m3.

Azman also voiced concern over some residents and workers who seemed to be neglecting their own health as they did not wear safety masks, adding that those people were facing breathing difficulties, coughs, allergies, itchy eyes as well as liver problems.

"Besides mining workers, others who are at risk are babies, children and senior citizens as they have a higher breathing air requirements and weaker body immunity system," he said.

According to Azman, the pollution problem could be reduced if the relevant law enforcement agencies had taken appropriate action when bauxite-mining activity began in the district.

"Personally, I think the relevant agencies including the Department of Environment should have monitored the situation from the beginning especially in the aspect of the implementation of the mining works.

"The dust can be reduced if all lorries carrying bauxite properly cover their load and the roads used to transport are washed with water.

"At the same time, buffers should also be built along the routes to filter the water used to clean up the dirty roads before it flows into rivers," he said.

He said the Department of Safety and Health (Dosh) should also play its role by ensuring those working in the bauxite industry always wear safety masks to prevent their health from being affected.

Meanwhile, Pahang Health director Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said there was a theory saying that aluminium poisoning through air pollution could cause Alzheimers disease.

"However, so far there is no conclusive evidence that aluminium poisoning through the air can cause the disease. It's just a theory without medical evidence," he said.

At the same time he did not deny that the number of patients who sought treatment for respiratory diseases such as asthma, colds and coughs in the government clinics and hospitals and in the state had recorded an increase. - Bernama

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Indonesia prepares rural flood defenses to protect crops

Reuters Yahoo News 6 Jan 16;

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is bolstering its rural flood defenses to help farmers protect crops from monsoon waters and the La Nina weather pattern, its agriculture minister said on Wednesday.

Indonesia is a top producer of cocoa, palm oil and coffee, as well as a major importer of rice and raw sugar. It has forecast that the La Nina weather pattern will strengthen from mid-2016.

Any reduction in output of these crops could support global prices or lead to greater imports as domestic supplies dwindle in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

La Nina is a cooling of the tropical waters of the Pacific that is a counterpart to the El Nino weather event that is characterized by warmer waters.

Indonesia is repairing irrigation systems and installing water pumps in areas likely to be worst hit, such as East Java, Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman told reporters, adding that rice planting was also being accelerated.

"La Nina (will) possibly occur in October," Sulaiman added. "We're preparing early in anticipation, just like last year when we made early preparations to face the drought."

Sulaiman said discussions with state food procurement agency Bulog were underway over domestic rice buying but declined to comment on imports, adding that harvests may be delayed a little and that Bulog currently had stocks of 1.2 million tonnes.

Rice imports are a contentious issue in the country where President Joko Widodo is faced with fast-rising food prices but is also pursuing self-sufficiency to protect farmers.

Despite the self-sufficiency push, Indonesia expected to have imported 700,000 tonnes of rice from Vietnam and Thailand by the end of 2015, a government official said last month.

(Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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Indonesia: Court decision to reject lawsuit against BMH criticized

Callistasia Anggun Wijaya, 6 Jan 16;

Environment activists, joining with the Coalition of Anti Forest Mafia, have criticized the Palembang district court’s decision to reject a lawsuit filed by the government through the Environment and Forestry Ministry against plantation company PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) over its alleged involvement in a forest fire in Palembang, South Sumatra.

They said that the court’s panel, led by Parlas Nababan, had made a careless mistake, saying that such a ruling might cause a bad precedent for the future.

Law researcher Syahrul Fitra, from Non-Government Organization (NGO) Auriga, criticized the panel’s decision, which stated that the forest fire was something that could not be controlled.

“Actually, forest fires tend to recur. Therefore, anticipatory measures should be taken,” said Syahrul on Wednesday.

Based on Auriga data, 1,023 fire spots were identified on BMH’s land concession areas from July to November last year.

Syahrul stressed that the fire spots were found in BMH plantation areas, not on land owned by local residents living in areas surrounding the plantation.

The court should have been concerned about the obligation of concession holders to anticipate forest fires, he said, adding that it seemed that the judges were more concerned with the company’s losses as a consequence of the fires, although the fires had also brought suffering to residents in the affected areas.

“They should have been concerned about the health impacts affecting the residents. The economic impact of the fires should also be considered, such as mitigation funds the government should be spending to tackle the fires,” said Syahrul.

The judges considered the case only as a general lawful act, the activist said, adding that forest fires were more complicated due to the impact on various fields, such as health, livelihood and economy.

Syahrul further said that the panel’s claim, which stated that the government could not prove ecological losses from the case, was also narrow.

Syahrul said that the judges should have taken the example from a court decision over a fire case involving plantation firm PT Kallista Alam in 2014. In the case, the panel of judges at the Meulaboh district court in Aceh decided that PT Kallista Alam had to pay Rp 366 billion (US$26.26 million) to compensate for land fires involving the company.

“The judges should have referred to the decision taken with regard to PT Kallista Alam, calculating economic loss caused by ecological damage could also be used in determining losses caused by land and forest fires,” he said.

Elizabeth Napitupulu, law and regulation researcher of NGO Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Indonesia said that the legal basis used by the judges was not strong.

“The judges seemed to have shown poor initiative in looking at relevant regulations. They only cited several articles contained in existing environmental regulations,” she said. (ebf)

Ministry appeals court rejection of BMH lawsuit
ERWIDA MAULIA, Nikkei Asian Review 6 Jan 16;

JAKARTA -- The Indonesian government is challenging a court ruling that has freed a plantation company from a 7.9 trillion rupiah ($568 million) lawsuit, despite "strong indications" that it is partly responsible for Indonesia's annual fire and haze crisis - which reached their worst on record last year.

The company, Bumi Mekar Hijau, is a supplier of Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world's largest pulp and paper producer and is a core subsidiary of Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas Group.

On Dec. 30, the district court in Palembang, South Sumatra, where BMH operates, rejected the government's lawsuit on the grounds that it had failed to provide evidence that BMH had been responsible for fires that engulfed 26,000 hectares of land within its acacia plantation concession in 2014.The Indonesian government, through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, filed the civil lawsuit to the district court after the fire and haze crisis in 2014, demanding that BMH pay a total of 7.9 trillion rupiah to compensate for the government's fire emergency expenses and to rehabilitate forests destroyed by the fires.

Eka Widodo Sugiri, spokesman of the ministry, said it lodged the appeal to South Sumatra's provincial court on Wednesday, while engaging in talks with the Supreme Court in an attempt to ensure better legal outcomes in the future.

"We hope only judges with good environmental awareness are appointed to handle environment-related cases," Sugiri told the Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday.

He added the ministry decided to appeal the Palembang court's verdict because it had found "strong indications" that BMH was guilty of setting fires in its concession in South Sumatra in 2014 and 2015.

In August and September last year, for example, satellites images showed 1,173 fire hotspots in South Sumatra. Most of them, Sugiri said, were located inside BMH's concession.

Whether or not BMH was guilty of igniting the fires, they happened inside the company's concession and therefore should be under its responsibility, he said.

"Appealing this verdict is part of the government's responsibility to protect the people and the environment," said Sugiri.

"And this is also about upholding our dignity before the international public, because impacts of the fire and haze crisis were not only felt in Indonesia, but in neighboring countries as well."

The Dec. 30 verdict came following the government's announcement that it was slapping sanctions on 23 local companies it deemed guilty of involvement in igniting fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan, and in creating a smog that covered large swathes of Southeast Asia between August and November 2015.

The World Bank estimated in November that the economic cost of the fire and haze crisis to Indonesia alone this year will exceed $16 billion, or about 1.8% of the country's gross domestic product.

Ignoring critics, however, the government only released initials of the sanctioned companies, some of which -- including BMH, which only became known due to the government's ongoing legal action against it -- are believed to be affiliated to large corporations.

BMH is among 16 companies whose licenses are frozen. Three companies have had their licenses revoked, while four have been ordered to clean up their operations in the Indonesian government's largest crackdown so far on companies responsible for the annual fires and haze.

Sugiri said that the government is also in the process of gathering documents to bring several other companies to court under separate civil lawsuits.Activists, though, remain skeptical that there will be major changes in law enforcement, citing the Palembang court's verdict on BMH as a "bad precedence" for the government's legal moves against other companies.

"The recent verdict should serve as a lesson to the government, that we cannot rely on law enforcement institutions to uphold the law. They have instead become a safe haven for forestry criminals in Indonesia," said Zenzi Suhadi of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), citing corrupt police officers, prosecutors and judges.

He suggested that the government be firmer in enforcing its punishments for companies. "The government shouldn't just freeze, but revoke licenses of those [responsible for fires and haze]."

APP has not responded to the Nikkei Asian Review's request for comment.

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Indonesia: Firms becoming more hostile in agrarian conflicts -- Report

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 6 Jan 16;

Companies in land-use conflicts have turned increasingly hostile towards local communities, a year-end report from the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) found.

KPA secretary-general Iwan Nurdin said that 2015 marked the first time companies accounted for the largest number of cases of violence in agrarian conflicts, overtaking the Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police.

“In the past, there was no such thing as companies committing violence. The most violent institutions [in agrarian conflicts] were the military and the police. But now, it is companies that commit most violence and murder in their areas,” Iwan said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

In 2015, there were 35 cases of companies committing violence, followed by the police with 21 cases, the military with 16 cases, other government institutions with 10 cases, gangs with eight cases and local communities with three cases.

In 2014, police were responsible for most violent cases in agrarian conflicts with 34 cases, followed by local communities with 19, companies with 12, gangs with six and the military with five cases.

“So 2015 was the first time companies became the main violent actor in agrarian conflicts,” Iwan said.

In 2015, the KPA recorded 252 agrarian conflicts concerning 400,430 hectares of land and involving 108,714 households, down from 472 conflicts in 2014.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) confirmed the trend.

“The trend [of companies becoming more hostile] has actually been ongoing for the past few years,” Komnas HAM commissioner Dianto Bachriadi said on Tuesday.

Dianto said companies usually hired civilian security forces (Pamswakarsa), first established by the TNI in 1998 to secure the General Session of the People’s Consultative Assembly.

“After the New Order regime, there has been a shift. The police and thugs are being hired to suppress people’s demands and resistance. This is wrong, their duty is to find the root cause of the problems [in agrarian conflicts], not to suppress it,” said Dianto.

He added that companies were becoming more hostile after hiring members of Pamswakarsa, as they expanded their businesses.

Dianto also said that KPA’s findings matched with those of Komnas HAM.

“The violators of human rights that are most reported to us by the public are companies. In 2015, we received more than 6,000 reports and 25 percent of them were related to agrarian conflicts,” he said. “And these conflicts mostly involved companies.”

In the past, Pamswakarsa had been reported to commit human rights violations, with some of members of the group convicted for murdering local residents.

One of the most prominent cases was the Sungai Sodong incident in Mesuji district, Ogan Komering Illir, in 2011, where Pamswakarsa members hired by PT Sumber Wangi Alam (SWA) committed sadistic murders.

In 2012, five Pamswakarsa members were sentenced to between eight and 10 years in prison for murdering Syaktu Macan and Indra Syafei, who came to the plantation of PT SWA to claim land ownership in early 2011.

Indra tried to block the Pamswakarsa members from taking over the land, because the local court had not decided the status of the land yet. The move was responded to with beatings, stabbings and shooting, with Indra’s throat being slit. “This is extremely worrying, because it is one more step from becoming a full-blown horizontal conflict. So this trend needs to be arrested,” Iwan said.

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Earth is 'experiencing a global warming spurt'

Climate Central: Scientists say cyclical changes in the Pacific Ocean have thrown Earth’s surface into what may be an unprecedented warming spurt, following a global warming slowdown that lasted about 15 years
John Upton for Climate Central, part of the Guardian Environment Network The Guardian 6 Jan 16;

While El Niño is being blamed for an outbreak of floods, storms and unseasonable temperatures across the planet, a much slower-moving cycle of the Pacific Ocean has also been playing a role in record-breaking warmth. The recent effects of both ocean cycles are being amplified by climate change.

A 2014 flip was detected in the sluggish and elusive ocean cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO, which also goes by other names, including the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Despite uncertainty about the fundamental nature of the PDO, leading scientists link its 2014 phase change to a rapid rise in global surface temperatures.

The effects of the PDO on global warming can be likened to a staircase, with warming leveling off for periods, typically of more than a decade, and then bursting upward.

“It seems to me quite likely that we have taken the next step up to a new level,” said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The 2014 flip from the cool PDO phase to the warm phase, which vaguely resembles a long and drawn out El Niño event, contributed to record-breaking surface temperatures across the planet in 2014.

The record warmth set in 2014 was surpassed again in 2015, when global temperatures surged to 1°C (1.8°F) above pre-industrial averages, worsening flooding, heatwaves and storms.

Trenberth is among an informal squadron of scientists that in recent years has toiled to understand the slowdown in surface warming rates that began in the late 1990s, which some nicknamed a global warming “pause” or “hiatus.”

A flurry of recent research papers has indicated that the slowdown was less pronounced than previously thought, leading some scientists to renew claims that those nicknames are inaccurate and should be abandoned.

“The slowdown was not statistically significant, I suppose, if you properly take into account natural variability, which includes the PDO,” Trenberth said. “That’s sort of the argument that people have been making; that even if it was a little bit of a slowdown, or pause, or call it what you will, it’s not out of bounds, and as a result we shouldn’t really put a label on it.”

The approximately 15-year warming slowdown was linked to the negative phase of the PDO, which is also called its cool phase. That phase whips up strong trade winds that bury more heat beneath sea surfaces, contributing to extraordinary levels of warming recorded in the oceans. A similar phase led to a slight cooling of the planet from the 1940s to the 1970s.

“Last time we went from a negative to a positive was in the mid-‘70s,” said Gerald Meehl, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist. “Then we had larger rates of global warming from the ‘70s to the late ‘90s, compared to the previous 30 years.”

“It’s not just an upward sloping line,” Meehl said. “Sometimes it’s steeper, sometimes it’s slower.”

The effects of the warm phase of the PDO and the current El Niño may be cumulative in terms of warming the planet. It also seems likely that changes in the ocean cycles are linked, with changes between El Niño and La Niña driving changes in the PDO cycle.

Or, perhaps the PDO doesn’t exist at all, other than as a tidy pile of data points, and it’s simply a manifestation of changes in the shorter-running cycle between El Niño and La Niña.

“There’s some debate about whether there is a low frequency oscillation — is there a distinct interdecadal oscillation?” said Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann. “Or is what we call a low frequency oscillation just a change over time in the frequency and magnitude of individual El Niño and La Niña events?”

Regardless, “it seems pretty clear that we’ve transitioned from a time period where there was a prevalence for La Niña conditions,” Mann said. “Over the past several years we’ve been in the multi-year El Niño state, and it has culminated with an extremely large El Niño event.”

The future of PDO phases will not slow down or speed up the overall long-term rate of global warming. That will continue to rise with pollution levels. But scientists are expecting more intense heat during the months ahead, which should bring with it more wild weather.

“There are a lot of things in place that have locked us on course to have a really warm start to 2016,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Nate Mantua. “I have a hard time seeing how we’re not going to be looking at either record level or near-record level global mean surface temperatures for at least the first half of 2016.”

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