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Cablegate: East Java Mudflow Update: Flames and Geysers Form Backdrop

VZCZCXRO2876
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHHM
DE RUEHJS #0029/01 0630936
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 030936Z MAR 08
FM AMCONSUL SURABAYA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0170
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0086
RUEHCAA/GEOLOGICAL SURVEY DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA 0157
RUEHJS/AMCONSUL SURABAYA 0175
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0031
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0084

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SURABAYA 000029

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS, EAP/MLS, INR/EAP, EB/ESC/IES
DOE FOR CUTLER/PI-32; AND NAKANO/PI-42
COMMERCE FOR USDOC 4430

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EPET ENRG PGOV ASEC ID
SUBJECT: EAST JAVA MUDFLOW UPDATE: FLAMES AND GEYSERS FORM BACKDROP
TO RENEWED MUDFLOW DEBATE

REF: SURABAYA 27 AND PREVIOUS

SURABAYA 00000029 001.2 OF 002


This message is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: Geysers and gas flares near the
mudflow epicenter continue to appear since they first started in
early February. Sidoarjo Mud Management Agency (BPLS) Spokesman
Achmad Zulkarnain said that the recent flare-up of burning
hydrogen sulfide gas on the site of the abandoned Jatirejo fruit
market occurred only ten meters from the highway and railroad
linking Surabaya to the eastern part of East Java province.
Since the beginning of February, geysers, often mixed with
flammable gases, have appeared in areas previously untouched by
the mudflow. National attention has recently refocused on the
disaster due to debate in the People's Consultative Assembly
(DPR) over the conclusions of a DPR fact-finding team (TP2LS).
The team's determination that the disaster was not caused by the
Lapindo Brantas Corporation caused stark division in the DPR.
While back in East Java, local protests by residents excluded
from various compensation schemes continue to stall dike repair
and snarl local traffic around the site. End Summary.

Flaming Geysers
----------------------

2. (SBU) Geysers continue to erupt in villages
surrounding the mudflow containment. As of March 3, several new
geysers have emerged as the result of continuing subsidence near
the mudflow epicenter. Gas measurements conducted by BPLS
showed that hydrogen sulfide levels ranged from 8-35 parts per
million in the area near the flare-up at the abandoned Jatirejo
fruit market. BPLS spokesman Zulkarnain told local media that
the gas would not have ignited on its own, suggesting that local
residents were setting the leaks alight. BPLS Deputy for
Operations Mr. Soffian Hadi told ConGen Surabaya Pol/Econ
officer that emergency negotiations with Surabaya's Juanda
Airport management to provide needed fire fighting equipment
broke down over the per liter price of flame retardant foam.
BPLS could not guarantee payment and improvised with wet
sandbags until Sidoarjo City Fire Department trucks extinguished
the flames on the 26th.

Natural Disaster vs. Industrial Accident
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (SBU) Controversy over the conclusions of a
DPR-mandated report by the TP2LS team seems to have given
renewed traction to talk of using a relief-well technique for
stopping the mudflow. In turn, this has reenergized debate
between mud victims, their advocates and Lapindo Brantas, which
insists that the flow is a natural phenomenon and cannot be
stopped. Representative of this renewed sense that the mudflow
can be "killed" is the "Movement to Shut Off the Lapindo
Mudflow" (Gerakan Tutup Lumpur Lapindo). Local media reported
that its members emerged from a February 28 meeting with the
Sidoarjo Regent optimistic the mudflow can be stopped --
although they estimated that at least USD 50-70 million in
government funds and donations will be needed to do the job.

4. (SBU) While talk of stopping the mudflow has
gained new life, little has happened to change the parameters of
the discussion of fair compensation for mudflow victims. A
decision by the Indonesian government to pay compensation to
newly displaced persons from official coffers was criticized by
the former chair of the People's Consultative Assembly (DPR),
Amien Rais. According to local media, Rais wondered why public
funds are being used to compensate victims of a disaster caused
by Lapindo Brantas. Ahmad Zakaria, coordinator of the "Mud
Victims Movement From Four Villages" (Gerakan Korban Lumpur
Empat Desa) also criticized the government's decision to use
government funds as compensation. "We are victims of Lapindo,
not a natural disaster, Lapindo should pay," said Zakaria.
Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Aburizal Bakrie,
(the Bakrie Group once owned Lapindo) shrugged off complaints
saying that, whatever the source, victims are being compensated,
and that is what matters. Bakrie reminded the press that
Lapindo had been very generous by compensating residents from
impacted areas, despite the fact that the State Courts of South
and Central Jakarta decided that the mud disaster was not caused
by Lapindo Brantas.

Lapindo PR Offensive

SURABAYA 00000029 002.2 OF 002


---------------------------

5. (SBU) In reaction to the nationwide uptick in
attention toward causes of the disaster a "National Symposium on
Solving the Mud Disaster" was held on February 28 in Surabaya.
Funded by a new East Java NGO, according to some participants,
the day-long conference promised an opportunity for input from
mudflow victims and specialists alike. The symposium gradually
devolved into a specialist's debate on the geological
underpinnings of the disaster, however. Victims and other
audience members were largely shut out of the conversation.
While not explained to the audience, several of the geologists
at the symposium either worked for Lapindo Brantas, or
participated in prior research teams organized by the company.
While the stated intention of the symposium was solving the mud
disaster, the composition of the symposium's expert panel
suggests an effort to sway public opinion away from criticism of
Lapindo Brantas.
MCCLELLAND

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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