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US Mining Company Vows to Fight Indonesian Pollution Charges

The world's largest gold mining company, Newmont, has vowed to fight allegations it has polluted water off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi with contaminated waste.

One of mining giant Newmont's Indonesian subsidiaries, Newmont Minahasa Raya, is accused of pumping toxic arsenic and mercury into the waters of Buyat Bay, off the northeast of Sulawesi Island.

A civil action filed by Indonesia's environment minister claims the pollution damaged the environment and sickened people living around the bay. The suit is seeking around $130 million in compensation.

Five Newmont executives also face criminal charges for what authorities claim was their role in dumping toxic waste.

A spokesman for the company, Robert Humberson, insists the charges are false.

"Newmont has maintained from the beginning of this case, and continues to maintain, that the scientific proof is clear: the waters of Buyat Bay are clean, they are not polluted by Newmont's mining operations, the fish are safe to eat, and the health of the villagers has not been impacted by Newmont," Mr. Humberson said.

The company admits the chemicals were in the waste, but maintains they were in stabilized, non-toxic forms.

Newmont cites a number of studies, some of them by the Indonesian government, that show no sign of significant levels of the toxic forms of mercury or arsenic in the bay, or evidence of poisoning among the villagers who live around it.

But the government and some environmental groups point to other studies that have indicated significant pollution.

The company has lodged its own counter-suit, saying that it has been defamed by some of its critics.

Indonesia needs foreign investment to keep its economy growing, but many in the mining and investment communities in Jakarta say issues like the Newmont case are making investors think twice.