Image: Gibbon inside Indonesia national park
Gunung Halimun Salak National Park
The wildlife inside Indonesia's Gunung Halimun Salak National Park includes gibbons like this one.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/2/2010 1:12:15 PM ET 2010-02-02T18:12:15

Indonesian officials say they are investigating how 180 luxury villas came to be built inside a protected national forest.

The Forestry Ministry said Tuesday the mansions were built on more than 600 acres of the Gunung Halimun Salak National Park in West Java.

Local media reported that the homes are likely owned by senior government officials and could be destroyed.

“Looking at the land status, which is national park, I think they built them without any permit,” Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said in comments in the Jakarta Post newspaper.

The "Heart of Java" nature area is home to more than 100 streams and endangered Java eagles and gibbons.

Indonesia's vast forests are rapidly being destroyed by land clearing for plantations, mining and other commercial development.

Zulkifli that the land was previously held by a state-owned forestry company, which transferred the land to a group called the Veterans Foundation through a land-swap mechanism about 20 years ago.

Zulkifli said the Veterans Foundation had promised to exchange other land for the park land, but apparently no such swap was ever completed.

“Since there was no land swap from the foundation for the land in Halimun, we regard the deal ... to have been cancelled and we regard the area to be a national park,” Zulkifli said.

“If there has been a land swap, we will check where the other land is. If there is no land, we will coordinate with the police,” he added.

The ministry’s director of forest protection said the ministry would determine who exactly owned the villas.

“If they belong to locally born people, we will change the status of the area to ‘conservation village’ since it is impossible to evict inhabitants from their native areas,” he said.

But if the villas turn out to belong to people not native to the area, they will be torn down, he added.

Anyone building in a conservation area without the correct legal documents could face a fine of $535,000 and 10 years in prison, the ministry said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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