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[TOKYO] Indonesia's president said on Tuesday the long-delayed construction of a US$4 billion coal-fired power plant would finally start next month, but an activist group said land disputes had not been settled despite his personal intervention.
The mega-project, the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia, is seen by investors as a test case for whether President Joko Widodo's ambitious reforms can translate into real development in the vast archipelago.
"The problem regarding the Batang power plant has already been solved. Development will resume next month," Mr Joko said through an interpreter at a business forum in Tokyo. "I, myself, have been directly handling the problem."
The 2,000-megawatt (MW) power plant in Central Java has been repeatedly held up by difficulties in buying land for the site.
Farmers and fishermen affected by the Batang project have fought to hold on to their land and livelihoods, with the farmers saying the land was in a prime rice-growing area.
Those disputes had not been solved, Greenpeace Campaign Coordinator Arif Fiyanto told Reuters, saying he represented landowners in Batang who were refusing to hand over certificates for 29.8 hectares (73.6 acres) of land to the company building the plant.
"Jokowi should come and meet the Batang community directly, to know the truth," Mr Fiyanto said, referring to the president by his nickname.
PT Bhimasena Power Indonesia, a joint venture set up by PT Adaro Energy Tbk, Itochu Corp and Electric Power Development Co Ltd (J-Power), will build and operate the power plant.
It could be operational by the end of 2018 if construction starts soon, the government has said.
President Joko, who took office in October, has promised to make it easier for investors to acquire land, particularly for power, infrastructure and industrial projects.
His election victory owed much to a "can-do" image as Jakarta governor, when he pushed forward other long-delayed projects such as an urban railway after meeting directly with residents who had been protesting against them.