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September 28, 1987

Indonesia is opening up large tracts of rain forest to gold prospectors and next month will sign 60 new exploration contracts with foreign mining firms, bringing the total to 103 during the past two years. About 600 applicants are waiting on the sidelines for a chance to join the gold rush.

When Mining and Energy Minister Subroto awarded 34 new gold-exploration contracts last December, he declared, "We are entering a golden era," and predicted that Indonesia would produce 150 metric tons of gold a year within a decade.

More conservative forecasts from the directorate of mining say Indonesia could reach a level of 20 tons in five years. The world's biggest gold exporter, South Africa, produced 659 tons in 1985, followed by Canada with 95, according to brokerage Shearson Lehman Bros.

If Subroto's projection of 150 tons a year comes true, gold would earn Indonesia $1.9 billion annually at current prices. Oil and gas exports brought in $6.8 billion in the 1986-87 fiscal year.

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