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Cablegate: Heart of Borneo: Update On Bruneian Views

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBD #0497/01 2710821
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 280821Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3545
INFO RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR 0633
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA 0313
RUEHSW/AMEMBASSY BERN 0021
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 0021
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0485
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0092

UNCLAS BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 000497

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ETRD SENV ID MY BX
SUBJECT: HEART OF BORNEO: UPDATE ON BRUNEIAN VIEWS

REF: BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 361

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Government of Brunei (GOB) remains solidly
behind the Heart of Borneo (HOB) project, a WWF initiative that aims
to establish a tropical forest conservation area consisting of
85,000 square miles of contiguous protected zones across the three
countries that share the world's third biggest island. The GOB is
prepared to place 61.3 percent of Brunei's land area under HOB
protection, but only if Malaysia, Indonesia, and their local
governments on Borneo establish and enforce their own protection
zones. The Bruneians have become more optimistic that the Malaysian
states of Sabah and Sarawak will do so, but remain concerned about
Indonesian provincial authorities given their lack of resources and
other priorities. The GOB has offered its comments on an Indonesian
draft of a leaders declaration establishing the HOB and hopes it
will be issued at the December ASEAN Summit; it has proposed
establishment of a rotating HOB Secretariat once the declaration is
issued, and offered to serve as initial host country. End Summary.

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2. (U) Ambassador met GOB Deputy Minister of Industry and Primary
Resources Dato Hamdillah on September 27 to get an update on GOB
support for the HOB. Hamdillah confirmed that Brunei remains
solidly behind the initiative. Against the backdrop of the seasonal
"haze" that has dropped visibility in some parts of Brunei to under
two miles -- actually smoke from land-clearing forest fires,
primarily in the Indonesian portion of Borneo -- Hamdillah argued
that this was a national security issue for the GOB, since
developments within the HOB area had a direct impact on the sources
of Brunei's fresh water and on its air quality.

3. (U) Hamdillah briefed the Ambassador on the results of an HOB
national workshop held in Brunei earlier this year under the
sponsorship of the GOB, UK High Commission, Brunei Shell Petroleum
and HSBC Bank. At the workshop, the GOB decided that it could place
61.3 percent of Brunei's total land area of 2,228 square miles under
HOB protection: 267 square miles of national parks and protected
forests, 557 square miles of production forest lying between these
areas, plus another 541 square miles of rattan and bamboo
plantations, logged-over forest, and peat swamp and coastal forests
running down to the South China Sea coast in western Brunei. This
was consistent with the National Forestry Policy of maintaining
forest coverage over at least 55 percent of Brunei and the current
level of approximately 70 percent forest coverage. Economic
activities such as oil exploration and production could take place
in parts of this area, but only under strict environmental
guidelines.

4. (SBU) Hamdillah repeated his earlier assertion (reftel) that the
GOB would not finalize its declaration of an HOB protection zone
until the other participants -- Malaysia plus its states of Sabah
and Sarawak, and Indonesia and its province of East Kalimantan --
were ready to do the same. The HOB was a single ecosystem, and
there was no point in Brunei trying to protect its small slice of it
in isolation from the rest. Unlike his earlier view, however,
Hamdillah now believed that Sabah and Sarawak were serious about
putting into place the necessary legal protections and enforcement
mechanisms. He was more concerned about Indonesia. Although there
was growing support in Jakarta, provincial government officials had
limited resources and other pressing problems such as the lack of
economic development to address. Hamdillah had heard that the WWF
representative in Jakarta might be leaving his post soon, and
worried that the departure of this champion for HOB could further
set back efforts to win Indonesian support.

5. (U) Hamdillah was focused on the issuance of a joint HOB
Declaration by the leaders of the three countries who shared the
island as the next necessary step toward turning the HOB vision into
reality. He believed that only such a joint declaration could
provide the political impetus needed at this stage of the HOB
project. The Indonesian government had done a first draft of a
declaration, the GOB had offered its edits at the workshop earlier
this year, and Hamdillah hoped the Malaysian government would do the
same at a national workshop it was hosting. The GOB would push for
the final declaration to be signed at the ASEAN summit in December.
The GOB had also proposed that once the Declaration was issued, an
HOB Secretariat be established that would rotate between each of the
three participating countries, but always on the island of Borneo
itself. The GOB had offered to serve as the initial host nation.

6. (SBU) Asked what would be the GOB's biggest problem in
implementing its HOB obligations, Hamdillah replied without
hesitation "people." The staff members of GOB forestry and
conservation agencies were not uniformly sold on the need for
conservation, and those that were did not have the training they
needed. Close supervision and additional training would be required
if the HOB was to be a success.

7. (SBU) Hamdillah repeated his earlier expression of gratitude for
the USG contribution of USDOLS 100 thousand to HOB, but shared his
worry that certain of his (unnamed) counterparts from Malaysia and
Indonesia were drawing the wrong conclusion from the USG
contribution. He had heard grumbling that if USDOLS 100 thousand
was all the world's only superpower saw fit to contribute to HOB,
then it could not be a very high priority for Washington.
Ambassador asked Hamdillah to stress to his counterparts that the
importance of our contribution was not just the amount provided, but
also the signal of USG interest and the ability of our contribution
to leverage additional action by other donors.


SKODON

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