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Cablegate: East Java Mud Flow Update: Politics and River Currents

VZCZCXRO6171
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHJS #0066/01 3060808
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 020808Z NOV 07
FM AMCONSUL SURABAYA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0094
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA 0086
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0033
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0035
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHJS/AMCONSUL SURABAYA 0096

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SURABAYA 000066

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS AND EB/ESC/IEC
DEPT FOR DS/IP/EAP
DOE FOR CUTLER/PI-32 AND NAKANO/PI-42
COMMERCE FOR USDOC 4430

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ENIV EPET ELAB ENRG PGOV ASEC ID
SUBJECT: EAST JAVA MUD FLOW UPDATE: POLITICS AND RIVER CURRENTS
COMPETE; REQUEST FOR MONITORING EQUIPMENT

REF: SURABAYA 64 AND PREVIOUS

SURABAYA 00000066 001.2 OF 002


This message is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: The Sidoarjo mud flow continues to play both a
symbolic and tangible role in East Java's political and economic
life. The beginning of the rainy season, the increasingly
frequent breaches of existing earthen dams, the threats to vital
infrastructure, the continuing distrust of the central
government's and Lapindo's willingness to resolve the
situation, and the disruption of livelihoods have led to
increased public and media outrage. Thousands of residents
blockaded the main road through Porong town demanding that the
Sidoarjo Mud Management Agency (BPLS) immediately halt
channeling mud into the Porong River. Local politicians hope to
use this issue to their advantage in 2008 elections; while
election officials worry that voter registration will be
impossible given the wide-scale displacement of residents. BPLS
officials expressed concern to the Consulate that BPLS is unable
to monitor properly subsidence at the site since much of the
monitoring equipment has been transferred to monitor three
active volcanoes. BPLS asked if perhaps the USG could help (Para
8). End Summary.

Protesting Against BPLS Mitigation Efforts
-------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) On October 31, an estimated 7,000 residents of Gempol
sub-district blocked the main road through Porong town in an
attempt to force BPLS to stop diverting mud into the Porong
River. According to press reports, the protestors claimed that
BPLS had agreed to not only stop piping mud into the Porong, but
also to return the river to its original condition within 10
days. In a meeting with Surabaya PolEcon officer the same day,
BPLS officials Soffian Hadi and Handoko Teguh expressed doubt
about the accuracy of these media reports. Soffian said that
BPLS chairman former General Sunarso had instructed BPLS staff
not to issue any statements regarding the protestor's demands.
Just last week, President Yudhoyono reportedly endorsed the
decision to continue diverting mud into the Porong (reftel).

3. (SBU) Soffian told us that the popular misperceptions that
mud will not be carried out to sea via the Porong River and that
heavy flooding was imminent were exaggerated. On the contrary,
BPLS is confident, based on scientific observation, that the mud
can be flushed away, albeit slowly, once the river's flow rate
increases. Currently, the River's flow rate is still at
dry-season levels. BPLS found that the mud was washed
downstream more quickly when a dam upstream was opened recently.
Soffian plans to meet with the Governor of East Java to request
the Governor guarantee the continuation of BPLS's work in Porong
as it is often disrupted by demonstrations, complicating and
even preventing mitigation efforts. BPLS will also request the
government take responsibility for negotiating with the
demonstrators and local residents since BPLS does not have the
authority to do so.

4. (SBU) On November 2, Soffian confirmed to the Consulate
that, in response to recent demonstrations, BPLS was limiting
its pumping of mud into the Porong to times when the river
current was strongest. He explained that at 2330 November 1 and
0300 November 2, BPLS had quietly pumped mud into the river when
BPLS staff saw the river current increase following locally
heavy rains. He added that BPLS had invited local villagers to
witness that the mud was being flushed downstream by the
current, and none had objected. Soffian noted that BPLS was not
currently pumping mud into the river (the afternoon of November
2), but would resume when the current strengthens.

All Politics Are Local
----------------------

5. (SBU) Soffian suggested that the protestors were being used
by local politicians to advance political agendas. He explained
that the Regent of Pasuruan, for example, plans to use issues
surrounding the mud as part of his campaign platform during the
2008 elections. Politicizing matters further, Lapindo is
obligated by presidential decree to complete compensation
payments to victims by May 2008, just before the anticipated
July 2008 gubernatorial election. The Chairman of the East Java
election commission told PolEcon Officer in a separate meeting
that the mud flow has made it difficult to register voters in

SURABAYA 00000066 002.2 OF 002


the Porong area since all of the local offices at the village
and sub-district (kecamatan) level have disappeared. In
addition, most of the victims are now scattered in temporary
housing throughout the region and as far away as Sulawesi. The
Election Commission estimates 45,000 voters have been displaced,
excluding victims forced out of their homes in the past month.

Fish Are Dying, Might As Well Turn a Profit
--------------------------------------------- -

6. (U) On November 2, local media reported that a large number
of dead fish were floating just upstream from the area where
BPLS was diverting mud into the Porong River. According to
local media reports, the Sidoarjo District Commission for the
Environment explained that pollution levels were rising as
pollutants built up in the stretch of river immediately upstream
from where the mud entered, thus killing the fish.

7. (SBU) Syaiful Illah, Deputy Regent of Sidoarjo and a member
of the Sidoarjo Fish Pond Association, suggested to local media
outlets that the mud could be channeled into neighboring
aquaculture ponds instead of the river. These aquaculture areas
comprise a band separating the mud containment site from the
Strait of Madura. Any plan to use the ponds could create a
conduit for the mud substantially wider than the channel
provided by the Porong River. Illah, himself an owner of fish
ponds in the area, stands to gain if he can convince the
government or Lapindo to compensate him for his land. Japanese
and European markets refuse to purchase seafood produced in the
area due to fear of contamination.

Competing Priorities: Volcano or Mud Flow
--------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) BPLS is having difficulty monitoring the level of
subsidence at the mud flow site and in turn anticipating
breaches in the earthen dams. Soffian told us that many of the
monitoring devices used previously have been transferred to
monitor increased activity at three volcanoes: Mt. Kelud in East
Java, Mt. Soputan in North Sulawesi, and Anak Krakatau. While
funds to purchase equipment has been earmarked in the BPLS
budget, the central government has yet to disburse the funds and
no timetable has been set. Soffian asked if perhaps the USG
would have equipment available in the meantime.
MCCLELLAND

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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