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After 4 Years of Mud, Sidoarjo Blame Question Lingers

lumpur100115_08_thumb150_150JAKARTA – Green groups blasted the government on Friday for failing to seriously consider and take action on the lives ruined as a result of Lusi, the gigantic mud volcano which continues to spew toxic sludge in Sidoarjo, East Java, four years after it erupted.

The disaster has inundated hundreds of hectares of land, leaving thousands homeless, but the controversy does not end there, green groups pointed out.

“It would need political bravery from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to open this case again, because then the police and the Attorney General’s Office would review the decisions on why the investigation was stopped,” said Chalid Muhammad, head of the Indonesian Green Institute, at Friday’s media briefing during a commemoration event for the four-year anniversary of the mud flow.

Independent foreign experts have concluded that haphazard gas exploration drilling by PT Lapindo Brantas, a company linked to Aburizal Bakrie, was almost certainly responsible.

Aburizal was recently appointed managing chairman of a joint secretariat set up by President Yudhoyono’s ruling coalition.

Lapindo and the government have in turn laid the blame for the eruption on an earthquake that struck days before, about 280 kilometers away, a theory that has been dismissed as insufficient by foreign scientists.

Yudhoyono ordered the company to pay about $400 million for mud containment efforts and compensation to more than 10,000 families.

But analysts believe the total cleanup, if it is ever done, will cost many billions. All attempts to plug the geyser have failed and new spouts are opening up, threatening to destroy more villages, homes and livelihoods in Sidoarjo. The mud lake is so huge — seven square kilometers in area and 20 meters deep — that it is now visible from space. Experts have warned that the mud may continue to flow for several decades.

Friday’s commemoration was also supported by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), the Fisheries Justice Coalition (Kiara), Women’s Solidarity for Human Rights, OneWorld, the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Imparsial, and the Community Legal Aid Institute (LBHM).

In August 2009, the East Java Police halted its probe into the case, citing a lack of witnesses to confirm a link between the mud flow and drilling activities at Lapindo’s Banjar Pandji I well, after the Supreme Court backed up a decision by the South Jakarta District Court denying a lawsuit by the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation that charged Lapindo was responsible for the ongoing eruption of hot mud.

Chalid said he was very pessimistic, citing the “fact that the No. 1 man in the country had no political bravery” to solve the mud flow disaster case.

The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation’s Zainal Abidin voiced the same sentiment, saying investigators were taking a cue from the president. “Once there is a serious directive to deal with the case, then there will be serious action from them also,” Zainal said. (Fidelis E Satriastanti & AFP)

(c) Jakarta Globe

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