Banda Aceh. Traditional gold miners in the Pidie district have slammed Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah’s recent ban on illegal gold mining, demanding that he proves claims that their activities cause environmental destruction.
More than 1,000 traditional gold miners from the Geumpang and Mane subdistricts staged a protest against the new ban at the Geumpang bus terminal on Saturday. They spread a 50-meter-long white cloth dotted with their bloody fingerprints.
“We will hand over this cloth to the Aceh governor as proof of our fight till the last drop of blood for our right to keep our gold mining businesses,” said Muhammad Abet, one of their leaders.
Muhammad Nasir, a coordinator of the rally, also called on Zaini to annul the ban.
“Whatever happens, we will not close and abandon our businesses. If the government thinks our activities are not environmentally friendly, then it should show us how to make it environmentally friendly,” Nasir said in his speech during the protest. “And if they consider our activities illegal, then make them legal.”
He added more than 5,000 people — many of them were victims of decades-long conflict between the Indonesian government and now-defunct separatist group the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) — depended heavily on traditional mining to support their economy.
“We’re trying to rise from our economic hardships caused by prolonged conflicts,” Nasir said.
Zaini recently instructed the closing of traditional gold mining operations in Aceh, saying they have been responsible for the death of thousands of fish in the Tangse River in Pidie and the Teunom River in the neighboring district of Aceh Jaya.
Zaini said the deaths were caused by the irresponsible use of mercury in the process of gold extraction. Mercury also builds up in fish stocks and can be passed on to humans, causing severe illness and birth defects.
Aside from the Geumpang and Mane subdistricts, traditional gold mining can also be found in Gunung Ujeuen in the Aceh Jaya and South Aceh districts.
Nasir disputed the role of mercury in the mass fish deaths, citing a different lab test, which concluded that mercury did not play any part in the fish deaths.
“We believe that there are some people who have influenced the governor [to issue the ban], because nearly all the areas in Geumpang were once claimed by mining companies,” Nasir said.
He called for an independent team to investigate the alleged pollution of the two rivers with mercury.
“We think the policy is unwise... Before issuing the ban, the governor and his team should have first properly studied the problem in the field, or discussed the issue with us,” Nasir added.