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 Accord ends plan to open world's largest palm oil areas on Borneo

12/2/07 (Kyodo)  - A declaration to conserve rainforests on Borneo has ended plans to open the world's largest palm oil plantations on the island, an environmental organization said Tuesday.

The planned palm oil plantations along Indonesia's mountainous border with Malaysia, supported by Chinese investments, was earlier expected to cover an area of 1.8 million hectares and would have had long-lasting, damaging consequences to Borneo's rainforests.

In a press statement, WWF Indonesia said the declaration was signed by three countries -- Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia -- that own Borneo on the resort island of Bali on Monday.

Under the declaration, the three countries agreed to conserve and sustainably manage the so-called Heart of Borneo, one of the most important centers of biological diversity in the world, covering approximately 220,000 square kilometers of equatorial rainforests -- almost a third of the island.

"This is an historic occasion which marks new collaboration between our three countries," Indonesian Forestry Ministry Muhammad Kaban said. "This will put the Heart of Borneo on the world stage as one of the last great blocks of forest in the world."

Borneo's rainforests have been threatened by unsustainable logging, forest fires and forest conversion for plantations. Since 1996, deforestation across Indonesia has increased to an average of two million hectares per year and today only half of Borneo's original forest cover remains.

The island is home to 13 primate species, over 350 bird species, 150 reptiles and amphibians and around 15,000 species of plant, and continues to be the source of many new discoveries - more than fifty new species were discovered last year alone.

"Future generations will look back on this occasion and admire the leadership and courage shown by the three governments today to conserve the Heart of Borneo," Mubariq Ahmad, WWF-Indonesia's CEO and Executive Director, said.

WWF has supported the three governments to conserve the Heart of Borneo since the announcement of their joint intention at the Convention on Biodiversity in Brazil in March 2006.

"WWF stands ready to assist Borneo's three governments in realizing the groundbreaking commitment they have made," Ahmad added.

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