Illegal mining fuels social conflict in Indonesia’s Bangka-Belitung tin hub
- Tin mining at one of the world’s leading producers of the metal has sparked the latest in a series of conflicts between illegal miners and traditional fishermen in Indonesia.
- The incident stems from an activist fisherman’s social media posts criticizing the environmental damage caused by mining in Kelabat Bay in the Bangka-Belitung Islands, where mining is banned.
- Tin mining is the backbone of Bangka Belitung’s economy, but has also proven deadly to workers and damaging to coral reefs, mangrove forests and local fisheries.
BANGKA BELITUNG, Indonesia — A conflict that erupted earlier this year between traditional fishers and illegal miners in Indonesia’s Bangka-Belitung Islands has once again brought to light social tensions that have long plagued the one of the richest tin mining regions in the world. .
The incident was sparked by social media posts uploaded by Yudi Amsori, a fisherman and campaigner against illegal mining with community group East Belitung Watershed Forum. In the articles, he criticized the environmental damage caused by miners in Kelabat Bay, where fishing is one of the main local livelihoods.
On January 6, dozens of people claiming to be artisanal tin miners staged a protest outside Yudi’s house, demanding that he cut his posts and leave Belitung Island. The East Belitung Watershed Forum responded by filing a police complaint alleging violation of Yudi’s freedom of speech and pointed out that mining is prohibited in Kelabat Bay under the 2020 provincial zoning regulations. Local officials have also spoken out against illegal mining in the bay, which has been reserved exclusively for traditional fishing, mangrove conservation and tourism.
“What these illegal miners did to Yudi by forcing him out of his village gave the impression that the locals there support illegal mining,” Jessix Amundian, director of the Bangka-Belitung chapter of the Indonesian Forum for environment (Walhi), said Jan. 7.
“Emotional abuse towards Yudi is not only [directed at him] as an environmental activist, but also as a member of the community,” added Jessix.
The dispute appeared to have been resolved on January 7, after protesters appeared at a press conference with police and local government officials and apologized to Yudi. But this adds to the long list of clashes between small-scale miners and other community groups across the Bangka-Belitung Islands, the heartland of Indonesia’s tin mining.
The people of the Bangka-Belitung Islands have historically had a complicated relationship with tin mining, which began during Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia. Demand for the metal has grown in recent decades, particularly for consumer electronics, and today pewter accounts for more than three-quarters of the islands’ export earnings.
While some observers credit tin mining as driving the islands’ economic growth, and even describe it as a form of protest against the former New Order dictatorship, many indigenous communities insist that tin mining has never been part of their traditions. Tin mining has also proven deadly to workers and damaging to coral reefs, mangrove forests and local fisheries.
Mongabay Indonesia spent four months in mid-2020 investigating seven Malay tribes who live in Kelabat Bay. All denied that small-scale tin mining was part of their culture and instead attributed the practice to migrants from Sumatra and Java.
“Tin has never been part of our life story,” Sep Amir Ibrahim, 80, who is a community leader from Permis village in South Bangka district, told Mongabay Indonesia. “Pepper and fish got our children to school, funded our hajj pilgrimage and built our homes.”
Indigenous communities in Bangka-Belitung traditionally live from growing herbs and fishing, as they believe these activities cause minimal harm to the environment, said Rendy Hamzah, a culture researcher at Bangka University. – Belitung. He said that while they have historically resisted tin mining by fiercely guarding the few areas of the islands without metal deposits, they are now taking a stand by staging protests.
This story was reported by the Indonesian team at Mongabay and first published here, here and here on our Indonesian site on September 3 and June 19, 2021 and January 9, 2022.
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