Bima. Police questioned seven people on Friday about a riot in Ngelu village on Sumbawa island in West Nusa Tenggara.
Provincial police spokesman Adj. Comr. Lalu Wirajaya said the seven were questioned as witnesses to the riot and that no suspects had yet been identified.
Lalu said around 800 people had rioted in Ngelu on Thursday, torching the subdistrict office and several vehicles after the Lambu subdistrict chief, Muhaimin, refused to abide by protestors’ demands and sign a document rejecting a gold mining exploration survey in the area.
“Security personnel were forced to act firmly against the protestors because of the anarchic nature of their demonstration,” Lalu said, adding that one protestor was wounded by a rubber bullet, while 18 police officers were hit by stones thrown by the crowd.
He said the subdistrict office, the official residence and personal vehicle of the subdistrict chief, eight motorcycles and five other vehicles, including two police cars, were torched by protestors.
Police estimated the material damage at about Rp 3 billion ($336,000).
Around 350 police personnel remained on standby in Lambu on Friday, Lalu said.
The protests had been sparked by local opposition to plans proposed by Sumber Mineral Nusantara to explore gold mining possibilities in a 24,980-hectare concession in the subdistrict. Residents argued the mining activities would negatively impact the environment and the local population, partly because of fears that mining would drain the groundwater.
They further argued that while the mining operation may last decades, the environmental damage left behind would be permanent.
Muhaimin said the protestors’ violence was unwarranted since the project was still only at the exploration phase and no mining activities had yet commenced in the area.
He said Ferry Zulkarnaen, the head of the Bima district overseeing the proposed mining area, had already granted the company a permit for exploration because the firm had met all administrative requirements, including submitting an analysis on environmental impact.
He said the company had only been active in researching the area for two months.