1) South Pacific among Indonesia`s foreign policy priorities
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Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi said that Indonesias foreign policy and diplomacy will always pay attention to countries in the South Pacific region.
"At every annual statement of the Foreign Ministry, we emphasize that the South Pacific region is one of Indonesias foreign policy concerns," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said here on Thursday.
According to Marsudi, during the last three years, Indonesias presence and role were evident in all forums in the South Pacific region, such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the Pacific Island Forum (PIF).
"In addition, when the South Pacific countries were affected by a disaster, Indonesia was one of the countries that sent aid," she remarked.
In relation to several South Pacific countries that addressed human rights issues in Papua at the UN General Assembly session, Marsudi revealed that it was the right of those countries to convey such issues, and Indonesia was also entitled to submit an explanation.
"In the general assembly of the United Nations, all countries are given freedom to express their thoughts. Some countries in the South Pacific conveyed the issue of Papua, it is their right. We too have the right to explain," she pointed out.
"At the UN forums, we discussed the comprehensive development in Papua," she concluded. (*)
2) Saving Indonesia's birds-of-paradise, one village at a time
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SORONG, INDONESIA (AFP) - Deep in Indonesia's easternmost province, a group of birdwatchers wait in earnest hoping to glimpse the renowned birds-of-paradise. Once plentiful in Papua's jungles, rampant poaching and deforestation have devastated populations.
The tourists are in luck, their patience is rewarded: Perched on the branch of a tall tree near the remote village of Malagufuk, a red king bird-of-paradise can be seen darting between the leaves.
Agricultural plantations, touted as a means to improve economic opportunities, are rapidly expanding in Papua. But some villagers and conservationists warn this will result in forests being destroyed and the birds that inhabit them driven to the brink of extinction.
Birds-of-paradise numbers were already dwindling in Papua as they are poached, killed and used for decoration. Authorities have since banned the sale of the species but there is still a thriving illegal trade because international demand is high.
Authorities have banned the sale of birds-of-paradise, but this has not done much to dent the illegal trade, because demand is high.
"Nowadays the threat is not just wildlife hunting, but illegal logging. The conversion of forests to palm oil and cocoa plantations is the biggest threat," bird guide Charles Roring told AFP.
Indonesia's rainforests are home to 41 birds-of-paradise species, according to Roring, 37 of which can be found in the jungles of Papua.
They range from the lesser bird-of-paradise, known for its yellow and white flank plumes, to the twelve-wired bird-of-paradise, recognisable by the filaments that extend from its tail.
Admired for their striking colours and elaborate courtship rituals, the birds have a long history of being trapped and traded as ornaments.
They captivated Europeans after 16th century explorers returned with skins that had been dried, truncated of their legs and mounted to sticks; while their colourful feathers are still popular additions to traditional Papuan tribal decorations, such as headdresses.
Serene Chng, a programme officer at environmental NGO Traffic, said the wild birds are smuggled to other parts of Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
"Law enforcement capacity is very limited," she explained.
"Challenges include demand from consumers, corruption, poor surveillance, as well as lack of support from non-enforcement agencies that could help like airlines, shippers, courier services and airports," Chng added.
In Sorong, one of the largest cities in Indonesia's West Papua province, a souvenir vendor told AFP traditional headbands made with feathers could fetch as much as 1.5 million rupiah (US$112).
Papua is home to one-third of Indonesia's remaining rainforests but they are being chopped down at a rapid rate.
Palm oil companies started operating near Malagufuk village about three years ago, according to environmentalist Max Binur, from NGO Belantara Sorong.
Binur, who knew residents were worried the companies would destroy the surrounding forests and their traditional village life, proposed a solution he believed would protect the birds and forest.
He helped turn Malagufuk into an ecovillage where residents now work as guides or provide accommodation for visitors.
Up to 20 tourists visit each month to see the birds-of-paradise, as well as other bird species such as the Cassowary and Hornbill.
Visitors must trek two hours through the jungle to reach a remote settlement of stilt houses that has limited electricity.
"It sounded like a good ecotourism tour we could do. My mother is into birds and we were familiar with the birds-of-paradise from watching documentaries," German tourist Lisa von Rabenau said.
Binur is planning to launch similar ecovillage ventures across Papua and hopes tourism will lead to conservation of the world-famous birds and benefit locals.
He explained: "Tourists can bring in a bit of their money so the villagers can afford to nurture their families, send their kids to school, buy clothes and with this they will be conscious to save the nature."
While conceding that much more progress was needed, Adkerson said talks would continue to address new mining laws introduced this year to give Jakarta greater control over the archipelago’s mineral resources.
In August a deal seemed closer when Freeport agreed a framework to divest 51 per cent of the subsidiary that owns the mine to Indonesian investors in return for retaining operational control at Grasberg.
“I can tell you that we are working positively and amicably with the representatives of the government,” the CEO said.
“At the same time, we are going to be relentless in representing the interest of our shareholders.”
Meanwhile, the copper price has risen almost 30 per cent to above US$7,000 a tonne this year as global economic growth has increased demand. Several temporary closures at major copper mines, including Grasberg, have boosted the price.
Arizona-based Freeport, the world’s second-biggest copper producer, is addressing the Indonesian policy that requires mining firms to relinquish a 51-per-cent stake and pay higher taxes and royalties.
But there have been few tangible advances since the framework agreement on Grasberg was announced in August and Freeport shares fell 3.3 per cent yesterday (Wednesday) to US$14.73.
Freeport maintained this year’s sales forecast of 3.7 billion pounds of copper and 1.6 million ounces of gold, after twice lowering the estimate.
After sudden downturn in prices, mining firms are starting to eye growth but are mindful of upsetting investors who saw the industry squander billions of dollars on extravagant deals and projects during the “commodities super-cycle”.
“Negotiations in Indonesia matter more than anything else for now,” Jefferies analyst Christopher LaFemina told clients.
“While we are encouraged by Freeport’s operational performance, progress (or lack thereof) in the company’s ongoing negotiations with the government of Indonesia is clearly critical.”
The two sides have not be able agree on a number of key issues related to the proposed sale of assets, including valuation, timing and structure. If an agreement is not reached it will throw into doubt plans for a multibillion-dollar expansion at Grasberg.
Freeport said its Grasberg stake would drop first to 49 per cent and then to just 29 per cent under the divestment and joint venture plan.
“While our interest in the participation in Grasberg would be reduced, we would be receiving cash from that interest, which would reduce our exposure to Indonesia,” Adkerson told the media. “There’s positive and negatives to that.”
A bridge to the Grasberg mine. Picture credit: Flickr