Wawonii is an island of about 867 square km, located off the south-eastern coast of Sulawesi. The island was earlier part of Konawe Regency but belongs to the new Konawe Kepulauan (Konkep) Regency since 2013. Back in 2007, the Konawe Regent issued a business mining permit (IUP) to the company PT DBM, which included four villages on the island. Although the concession included residential areas and ancestral lands, the residents were not included in the decision-making process, which sparked conflict .
Since then, the total number of IUPs on the island has reached 18 – 7 for metal minerals and 11 for metal and non-rock minerals – and the residents are now facing large scale industrial mining by more than 10 corporations . The residents have been promised monetary compensation by the investors for lost crops, trees, and lands, as well as new infrastructural developments and employment opportunities. However, the islanders claim these to have been empty promises since the compensation was inadequate and no development projects have been seen .
Mining activities threaten the island’s bountiful rainforests, as well as they pollute the sea and coastal areas. This deprives the islanders of sources of clean water, as well as forces fishermen to go further out at sea to secure catches . Moreover, the risk of landslides increases with mining, as well as the resilience against floods decreases . According to the National Coastal and Small Islands Law, Wawonii is too small for mining activities to be allowed, which has been a point of emphasis in the advocacy by EJOs .
Resistance against the mining activities have been violent and met by repressive police action. In 2015, villagers burnt six trucks and other heavy equipment belonging to PT DBM, as well as its smelter. The action was followed by the arrest of the two alleged instigators and violence against the general public by armed police . A few years of continuous resistance followed, mainly concerning 15 active IUPs with effects on local communities. Hundreds of island residents – most of them farmers and fishermen – traveled by boat from Wawonii to the mainland city of Kendari, where the regency administration offices are located, to protest  . Protests have also been seen on-site, sometimes involving residents building huts to protect their lands from company machinery .
A large demonstration in October 2018 finally resulted in the Regent adhering to the demand of the protestors. A special committee on mining conflicts in Konkep was formed, and in late October community members were invited to a meeting with the Deputy Regent and relevant political bodies and agencies. The outcome was a consensus on that the 15 IUPs were to be revoked, and a letter was sent from the Regent of Konkep to the Governor of Southeastern Sulawesi requesting permission for revocation .
In early March 2019, two big demonstrations took place that sought to put pressure on the Provincial Governor, who had not yet delivered a final decision. In the first protest, around 300 Wawonii residents traveled to the Governor’s office and tried to push through security forces to meet the Governor in person. In addition, a group of students organized a theatrical self-burial ritual, describing the land of Wawonii before and after the entry of the mining corporations. A few days later, the protestors managed to break into the courtyard outside the office, and the district police responded with tear gas and beatings. The action resulted in 11 injured, several of whom were taken to the hospital .
On March 13th 2019, the Deputy Governor met with the protesters, separated from the crowd by barbed wire, promising that the permits would be revoked . The following day, a revocation statement including the 15 IUPs was signed . In April the same year, however, the Provincial Government revised its promise. It was announced that only 9 permits, which were in any case just about to expire, would be canceled. The remaining 6 nickel mining permits are left in operation since the Province Government’s examination pointed to no irregularities in company practice. Hence, if revoked, the Government would risk lawsuits from the companies in question  . Consequently, the conflict remains unresolved.