The Indonesian government is set to approve a plan to level vast areas of a protected virgin rainforest on Sumatra island for commercial exploitation, a move that has triggered criticism from rights groups.
A spokesman for the country’s forestry ministry said the government aims to approve the plan “in up to a month”, AFP reports.
The plan also needs the backing of the Aceh provincial parliament, which has expressed support in the legislature. “We hope it will go through as soon as possible,” said Tengku Anwar, the head of the Aceh parliamentary committee overseeing the project.
The massive project would free up around 1.2 million hectares (three million acres) of the forest on the northern tip of Sumatra province for mining, paper and palm oil plantations, reports AFP. The rainforest is home to critically-endangered animals, such as orangutans, rhinos and elephants.
Canadian mining company East Asia Minerals, which conducts gold exploration in Aceh, hailed the progress as “positive news for mineral extraction in the area”.
The company said it was working with government officials to reinstate the forest to be reclassified from “protected forest” to “production forest”.
Rights group Friends of the Earth Indonesia says the plan will only benefit companies and not local residents from the area. The project allows foreign corporations to intervene and drive local policy, says Friends of the Earth campaigner Dedi Ratih.