Gabriel thought he had seen it all. A grandfather of four on the remote Indonesian island of Lembata, he has lived through Dutch colonial rule and Japanese occupation. 'Now it looks like my home is going to be destroyed by a businessman from Jakarta,' he says. Lembata, in Indonesia's far eastern Nusa Tenggara Timur region, is touted as 'the last paradise' by regional government adverts seeking to woo adventurous tourists off the beaten track. Thanks to that same government's policies, paradise, Gabriel believes, will soon be lost to the invading bulldozers and excavators of mining magnate Yusuf Merukh. Mr Yusuf, an innocent protagonist in the Bre-X scandal in 1997 - history's biggest mining scam which saw international investors lose billions of dollars on a hoax gold find in Borneo - holds mineral exploration rights to at least a third of Lembata. He intends breaking ground on the new mine next year, with production starting in 2011. According to the tycoon, surveys point to extensive deposits of gold and copper on the 1,300 sq km island. At a recent press conference, he was even reported to have spoken about the deposits being large enough to help 'break US dominance' over global metals prices. Mr Yusuf knows his business. With the support of government and working with partners such as US mining giant Newmont, he has spent the years since Bre-X exploiting Indonesia's vast natural resources - and become one of the country's wealthiest men. 'It's not about me becoming richer; it's about sharing the benefits,' he insists. 'I faced 15,000 protesters when we [Newmont and Mr Yusuf's Pukuafu Indah subsidiary] opened the Batu Hijau mine on Sumbawa. 'But most of the workers and middle managers were hired from the local community. Now they drive Mercedes, not horse carts ... and when I visit they say, 'Our king is coming'.' There are certainly no Mercedes on Lembata. There are few roads for that matter. But before luxury cars can arrive from Germany, many of the 120,000 population in this predominantly Catholic community look set to lose their homes and livelihoods. Under existing plans, Mr Yusuf, with the Lembata government's support, publicly claimed that families being relocated from their lands to make way for the mine would be housed elsewhere, at his expense. According to NGOs, at least 60,000 people from 49 villages face eviction. Now Mr Yusuf has a grander plan. 'To house the families who need to move, I'm planning to build a city on the adjacent island [of East Flores] and Lembata people will transfer [there]. It's only 30 minutes by ferry and ... I will construct apartments, schools and hospitals, even an international airport to compensate them and serve the mine.' More startling still, he adds: 'I think the mine will take at least 70 per cent of the island ... perhaps the whole island.' The revelation has caused outrage among observers. According to Siti Maimunah, national co-ordinator or Jatam, an Indonesian mining advocacy group, the displacement of an entire population would be unparalleled, even in the grubby history of Indonesian mining. Sonny Keraf, Indonesia's former environment minister, is equally horrified - with good reason. He and his brother Peter, the speaker of Lembata's parliament, were born in Lamalera, a subsistence whale-hunting community on the island's southern shores. The brothers personify the ideological debate. Sonny Keraf contends it will destroy the environment, and its finite lifespan means that in 20 years both mine and the short-term benefits will be gone. 'There are sustainable businesses we could be developing on the island, like tourism and aquaculture. They might take years to get off the ground, but we can rely on them for generations,' he argues. In contrast, Peter Keraf sees Mr Yusuf as offering an economic lifeline to a poor community. 'I want to believe the project will provide thousands of jobs, a better infrastructure and future,' he says. But even he is sceptical: 'I'm not a disciple of Merukh's. I'm more like Thomas in the Bible. He didn't believe Jesus was the son of God until he saw the proof.' Although Sonny Keraf exercises considerable influence in Jakarta as the vice-chairman of its Committee on Energy, Mining and the Environment, the constitution delegates the right to award mining licences to local authorities. And according to Mr Yusuf, 90 per cent of Lembata's legislature last week voted to proceed with the mine. In the wake of widespread protests, Lembata's government head, Andreas Duli Manuk, is finding it hard to maintain credibility. He argues that Lembata can support a mine, local traditions and a tourism industry. After two weeks talking to residents on the island, it is clear that most do not believe him. With the threat of their lands and homes being razed by an open-cut mine, the people of this tiny outcrop in the Sawu Sea are determined to oust Mr Yusuf and his lackeys. At a meeting of activists from Forum Komunicase Tambang Lembata, a local NGO, the frustration is palpable. 'As an organisation we would not condone violence, but we don't speak for everyone. If you look at the track record of mining in Indonesia, it's clear why the people are so vehemently opposed,' says Peter Balawukak, a group leader. Mr Balawukak points to the damage caused by mining operations around the country. Data provided by Jatam indicates that Newmont and Mr Yusuf's Batu Hijau mine on Sumbawa is responsible for 120,000 tonnes of tailings being dumped into the sea every day. Newmont's website argues that this rock waste has no harmful effect on the environment and merely falls into a deep-sea trench. But with the WWF developing marine reserves around Lembata, Mr Yusuf is keen to point out that waste from his new mine would be processed onshore. This fails to even remotely console Mr Balawukak. 'Mining companies have continually failed to fulfil their environmental promises, they have failed to respect cultural identities, and they have failed to pay full compensation on compulsorily purchased property. So why should we give up our homes, family burial sites, fields, forests, fishing grounds and springs? It will be a disaster for the people and for their ancestors.' University of Bergen anthropologist Olaf Smedal, who has been researching population movements in Indonesia for over 20 years, understands those concerns, particularly over cultural and religious beliefs. 'It's a bit of a misnomer to say they're Catholics on a Sunday and ancestor worshippers for the rest of the week, but they sincerely believe that everything they possess derives from their forebears.' Mr Yusuf appears to underestimate this attachment. In the island's Kedang area, Gabriel is working the fields with sons Orifiel and Sofiel, both in their 30s. Despite the prospect of cash for their two hectares of land and lucrative jobs at the mine, the sons want no part of it. 'Our grandparents are buried in the village and 20 of our relatives live here too,' they say. 'Now the family is very afraid because they do not feel they can refuse the government policy to develop the mine - what options do they have?' Such pessimism does not surprise Professor Smedal. He sees a fundamental difference between voluntary transmigration and incidences where land is appropriated. 'Because of their values and beliefs, I doubt the community's opposition will be offset by any promises [of compensation],' he says. Mr Balawukak concurs: 'The people feel let down. No one wants to see their homes and fields lost to this mine, apart from the politicians. You look at what the people will lose, and have to wonder what the politicians will gain.' While there is no evidence of outright corruption on Lembata, there are tales of procedural irregularity in the due diligence undertaken by the government. Father Michael Peruhe, a conciliation specialist with the Order of Franciscan Monks' Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Jakarta, recounts how government and civil representatives from Lembata were reportedly sent on a fact-finding mission to another Newmont mine - in Minahasa Raya on Sulawesi. 'The mine is now non-operational and the idea was to come back to Lembata to tell the people how it had impacted the nearby villages,' he said. 'Two weeks later I and two others went to study the same area - only to be told by the Newmont office that no team from Lembata visited.' On confronting government head Mr Manuk, Father Peruhe was shown a report on the Minahasa Raya mine that had been put before parliament. 'I was shocked. How could the government of Lembata give a false report to the people and present it as truth? I talked to Andreas about this problem of manipulation, and [he] refused to comment.' Mr Yusuf is not so unwilling: 'These [protests], it's a problem generated by the Catholics. If you build the mines it diminishes the church's influence over poor communities so it's an excuse. It's propaganda. ... I can't help it if they refuse to see the economic benefits.' One way or another it seems Mr Yusuf is determined to dig a hole, not just for himself but for an entire community; one that Gabriel and his fellow islanders will have to fight hard to extricate themselves from. The names of Gabriel and his family have been changed to protect their identities.