Indonesia: Kaleidoscope of Agrarian Conflicts 2012

From Hidup Biasa, translated from Mongabaypart 1, part 2

Agrarian or resource conflicts are getting serious. Unclear land-use planning (including the designation of forest areas), along with the government’s attitude which seems to allow these conflicts to happen, are only making the situation worse. Companies come in to inhabited lands, or land owned by local or indigenous people. Conflicts arise between the people, or between the people and the company or the state. More often than not, it’s the people that lose out.

Points of friction keep on arising. Resource conflicts causing loss of life and property have continued all year long. Data from Walhi indicates that in 2011 there were 8307 agrarian conflicts, and 4302 cases that had been resolved.

Most conflicts occurred in West Sumatra with 883 cases, South Sulawesi with 780, West Java 749, Central Java 532, Bali 515, East Java 400, East Nusa Tenggara 335, North Sumatra 331, Banten 324 and East Kalimantan 242 cases. Here’s just a small selection of the agrarian conflicts that occurred this year.

January 2012

The year started with around 84 farmers from Pulau Padang, Meranti Islands Regency, Riau province, protesting outside the doors of the Legislative Council. This was a continuation of their protests from 2011, where they had also sewn their mouths shut.

This time, they didn’t sew their mouths, as that would endanger their lives, Their action was urging the government, especially the Forestry Ministry, to revoke PT Riau Andalan Pulp Paper’s permit, which they believed was destroying the forest ecosystem in Pulau Padang. The company had also been evicting land owned by the people.

Also in January, in Tanah Bumbu Regency, South Kalimantan an agrarian conflict occurred involving PT Batulicin Bumi Bersujud, a company owned by the Regency leader’s younger sibling, which had bid for a permit of 29,000 hectares, including customary land owned by the Meratu Mountains Dayak people, which included their villages, burial grounds and rice fields. The people protested and reported the case to the Forestry Ministry.

In central Halmahera, conflict between the people and a mining company arose towards the end of the month. The land dispute came about because a foreign company, PT Weda Bay Nickel, had opened a nickel mine. The people of Gemaf village and 66 families from Lelilef Sawai village had not received compensation, although their land had been seized. They reported the case to the National Human Rights Commission, which recommended that the company should negotiate a compensation deal and stop intimidating local people.

However, the company continued evicting more land, until the people blockaded the road and got rid of the company’s heavy machinery. The people continued to resist, blocking the way on to their land and making posters calling for action.

Next, on the 26th of January, the people burned the offices of the Bima Regency leader in West Nusa Tenggara as part of their resistance to plans to mine the area. Around 20,000 local people and students had been demonstrating outside the offices. They were demanding that the Regency leader Ferry Zulkarnaen keep his promise made five days before to start a dialogue with the people about revoking decision Number 188/2010 which permitted gold mining operations.

February 2012

The first day of this month was signalled by the creation of a special committee to deal with agrarian conflicts. This committee was set up seeing how many agrarian conflicts were flaring up all over the place.

On 2nd February in Riau Province, five farmers became the victims of brutality from state forces. This happened when they were demnstrating to defend their land from PT Majuma Agro Indonesia.

Towards the end of the month, on 25th February, hundreds of villagers from Fajar Indah village, Mesuji, Lampung Province, rioted at PT Barak Selatan Makmur Investindo. The people were protesting the oil palm company’s presence, and ended up burning the company’s office and fuel store.

March 2012

In early March, the conflict over land where PTPN II’s commercial use rights had expired started heating up. Clashes occurred between three fortifications set up by PTPN II Sei Semayang and two from the local farmers on the land. Poison arrows were fired in this clash which left several local people injured.

Then to close the month, four farmers stitched their mouths shut as a sign of their frustration that a land conflict had not been resolved. Dozens of others glued their mouths shut at the Jambi Governor’s office, Telanaipura, Jambi City.

The farmers were demanding the resolution of the conflicts with various companies which were affecting them, People from the Bathin IX ethnic group were demanding the return of 3600 hectares of customary land which had become an oil palm plantation belonging to PT Asiatic Persada (a subsidiary of Wilmar Group). Farmers from Kunangan Jaya and Mekar Jaya villages were disputing 11,000 hectares of land claimed by PT Agronusa Alam Sejahtera and Wanakasita Nusantara.

April 2012

The beginning of this month saw the farmers of Batahan District, Mandailing Natal Regency take action at the local House of Representatives. They were demanding a resolution of their land conflict with PT Palmaris Raya. They are participants in a government transmigration scheme who arrived to the area from Java in 1998. However, hundreds of them are suffering because land that was allocated to them has instead been seized by the company.

Late April showed the tragic results of what happens when the peoples’ voices are not listened to. People had complained about the presence of PT SLS’s oil palm plantation in Bago Tanggul village, Kalumpang, Hulu Sungai Selatan, South Kalimantan from the outset. But their demands were not heeded and provoked the people’s anger. On April the 23rd armed villagers blockaded the company’s roads, until one worker was killed. The situation remained tense and police and the military were brought in to guard the area.

May 2012

Conflicts between companies and the people kept on happening this month. In Riau Province, on the 7th May 2012 in Topeng Hulu, PT RAKA ‘s conflict with the people got physical and six people were shot in clashes. This company is also in conflict with people in the Tapung Hilir district. On the same day people from Batang Kumu, Rokan Hulu clashed with PT Mazuma Agro Indonesia (MAI). Three people’s houses were damaged or destroyed.

On the 9th May, a demonstration against mining in Bima Regency took place. This was resisting a marble quarry in Campa village, Madapangga dictrict, but ended in chaos with fights almost breaking out between pro- and anti-mining groups. Fortunately, the clash didn’t happen as security forces overseeing the action broke it up.

This act of resistance by local youth started out in Dena village. The crowd blocked a red truck believed to belong to PT Bunga Raya. PT Bunga Raya’s trucks often pass on local streets, causing damage to the roads. On examination if was found that the truck didn’t belong to PT Bunga Raya and was set free.

On May 22nd clashes broke out between the people and PTPN II in Kutalimbaru district, Deli Serdang Regency, North Sumatra. Between 10 and 20 people were wounded. The situation got entrenched. Several villages near to where the clashes happened appeared empty, as many of the people had fled. They were scared that they would be arrested by police accused of being involved in burning five of PTPN’s trucks.

The conflict happened because this state-owned company claimed the people’s land. The company’s commercial use rights had not yet been renewed. There was also the issue of customary land which had been rented to a plantation company in the Dutch colonial times which was then nationalised to become PTPN II.

On May 26th, an anti-mining demonstration took place in Picuan Lama village, South Minahasa, North Sulawesi, in which two people were shot and a student, Iswadi Sual, was arrested.

The demonstration of villagers from Picuan village was against the PT Sumber Energi Jaya’s gold mine that had been operational for around three months. They were asking the government to revoke the mining permission of this company, whose head office is located in Kapuk Pulo, Jakarta.

That day at noon, the police broke up the demonstration. Two people were hit by gunshots, Leri Sumolang (in the buttocks) and Nautri Marentek (in the arm). Iswadi was arrested.

June 2012

The news that ten people from Pulau Padang wanted to set themselves alight caught attention in early June. They were protesting because the government hadn’t heeded their demands. They had demanded that the government revise decision 327, which gave PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) permission for a industial tree plantation in the Meranti Islands, Riau province.

They had sent a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), but there was still no response. On the 25th June 2012, the Riau Farmer’s Union (Serikat Tani Riau) were planning to set themselves alight in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.

Events no less worrying occurred in Padang Halaban, Aek Natas, North Sumatra on 4th June. Dozens of farmers were held by police an one villager was shot in a conflict with the oil palm giant PT Smart Tbk, a subsidiary of Sinar Mas.

Fully armed police arrested 60 farmers and brought them to Labuhan Baru police headquarters in three trucks. They were forcibly arrested in a house-to-house search until they gave themselves up without a fight.

July 2012

Our portrait of land conflict this month begins with the action of around 600 farmers from Ogan Ilir Regency, South Sumatra, who came to Jakarta looking for justice. Since the 1980s their land has been taken by PTPN VII Cinta Manis using military force.

They brought with them a letter from the South Sumatra National Land Agency, showing that while PTPN VII only has commercial use rights for 4881.24 hectares of land, they have obtained a permit in principle for 20,000 hectares. The National Land Agency will not process their commercial use rights until the local people’s claims are resolved.

A letter supporting the people’s position was issued by the Governor of South Sumatra on 15th June 2012. In a letter signed by the vice-governor Eddy Yusuf, he asked for a re-evaluation of the land where commercial use rights had been issued, and that the land which was not covered by Commercial use rights be returned to the people. With this letter, the governor was asking the Ministry of state-owned enterprises to pay attention to the farmers’ demands.

Unfortunatly, after actions and dialogue with various institutions, such as the BPN and police, no agreement was obtained from the ministry and PTPN VII. The people returned home empty-handed.

Still in Sumatra, on June 11th, villagers from Seunebok Lapang and Tualang Pateng villages in East Peureulak, East Aceh, occupied PT Padang Palma Permai’s oil palm plantation in Blang Simpo village. They had occupied this land since 1998. However, there had never been any clear resolution, nether from the company nor the East Aceh government.

A bloody conflict took place on 18th July. The people of Balaesang Tanjung village, in Donggala, Central Sulawesi were resisting PT Cahaya Manunggal Abadi’s plans to open a gold mine. In the end, after two heavy machines were burnt on 18th July, police searched the village for the perpetrators. The people resisted being arrested. The police repeatedly used lead bullets against the people. Five were shot.

Because so many agrarian conflicts had been occurring, President SBY addressed the issue in a limited cabinet session at the Attorney General’s office on Wednesday 25th. The president said that he had received many complaints about land issues. Letters or messages complaining about issues such as overlapping land claims arrived nearly every week.

Dealing with land conflicts should not simply be matter for the police. Co-ordination with the BPN must be put in place. Apart from that, local officials such as regency or subdistrict leaders have to co-ordinate to avoid conflict.

SBY then highlighted the fact that in cases where ‘horizontal’ violence broke out between two groups of local people, the police rarely took swift and thorough action.

Unfortunately, it seems that SBY’s fine words meant nothing to his assistants and security forces. Just two days later, deadly conflict returned to Ogan Ilir between PTPN VII Cinta Manis and local farmers. Forces from the police mobile brigade (Brimob) searched villages in Ogan Ilir. Clashes broke out with the police in Limbang Jaya village, resulting in a child shot dead and five injured.

At that time, conditions around PTPN VII Cinta Manis became entrenched. Police forces searched Lubuk Keliat village, arresting people who were later released. The sweeping operation continued in Betung village as the people were engaged in Friday prayers.

The search continued in neighbouring villages, starting with Sri Kembang village. Around 16.00 Brimob forces swept through Tanjung Pinang village towards Limbang Jaya. Hundreds of fully-armed Brimob troops in at least seven trucks arrived in Limbang Jaya.

August 2012

In Central Sulawesi on 6th August, dozens of farmers involved in the Front for Popular Struggle ( Front Perjuangan Rakyat – FPR) demonstrated outside the Provincial Legislative Council in Palu.

The 18 organisations which make up the FPR view the cause of agrarian conflict as the monopoly on land exercised by plantation companies, large-scale mining and state institutions such as Perhutani (a state-owned forestry company), state-owned plantations and national parks.

One of the companies currently in conflict with the people is PT Hardaya Inti Plantations, owned by Hartati Murdaya. In the action, they demanded the release of 13 peasants that were still being held in the Donggala police headquarters since the fatal demonstration several weeks before. They were also demanding that the mine expansion in Dondo district, Tolikari Regency, should be halted.

In Riau, a conflict between villagers originating from a dispute with industrial forestry company PT Sumatra Riang Lestari on Rupat island entered a new stage. On 28th August, an attempt to mediate the dispute was launched at the police headquarters, led by Bengkalis police chief AKPB Toni Ariadi Effendi.

At least 35 participants representing the people, company, police and local government attended this attempt at mediation. In the four pages of notes produced in the meeting, one representative of the people called Sugianto clearly rejected PT SRL’s presence on Rupat Island and called for the people’s land to be removed from PT SRL’s concession.

Yusrizal, the Rupat district chief claimed that in Pergam and Mesim villages 4500 hectares of land cultivated by farmers groups, another 1000 hectares cultivated by individuals, were included in PT SRL’s concession. PT SRL’s representatives argued that they were following the directions of the Regency leader on Rupat Island.

It was agreed in the three-hour-long meeting to form a survey team and to verify the situation on the ground. The team set to work after the meeting. Their main task was to collect data on the land which is disputed by the company and people.

September 2012

In early September, several peasants came to Jakarta, with the aim of finding a way so that their land would not be taken over by mining companies. Actions had already taken place in Sukadamai Baru, Sungai Lilin and Musi Banyuasin villages, South Sumatra, but the company kept on regardless. Eventually villagers brought their complaints to the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam)

Village land and farms were under threat from PT Tigadaya Minergi (TDM). The people were intimidated. Terrorised by the way the company and their accomplices mobilised the police and military in order to smooth the way for mining operations.

In East Kalimantan, the long-running conflict between villagers of Muara Tae and PT Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa (MWJP) heated up once more. On 22nd September 2012, the people confiscated the keys to a bulldozer to stop evictions of land.

This oil palm company seemed not to care about the people’s resistance. They continued evicting land belonging to local people. The people have tried to stop the company’s operations in several ways. They have tried to find an agreement or resolution to this conflict. They have already made reports to the provincial police chief.

According to him, they had sent many letters of refusal and tried to meet the company’s general manager, but without success. “So it seems that there is no will to resolve this problem”.

On September 29th, repressive actions from police from Batang Police HQ caused injury to several local people. The National Human Rights Commission is investigating.

Events started when a resident of Karanggenang saw a Toyota Kijang Innova beng driven by Khalis Wahyudi from Jepara and with a Japanese passanger called Satoshi Sakamoto from Sumitomo corporation arrive to the location of a planned power plant, to carry out a survey. Several local people tried to meet the two men and invite them to the house of a local resident ,Casnoto, in Ponowareng village.

Around 15.00, police from the local station tried to evacuate the Japanese man. However, seeing a large number of people the local police tried to call for reinforcements.

Then around 16.30 around one hundred members of the Dalmas and Brimob forces of the Pekalongan police headquarters arrived at Ponowareng village. Accompanying the police were dozens of people who nobody knew, but who were carrying sharp weapons. They directly bombarded the people who were gathered there. In the end, violence broke out, and several people were wounded.

October 2012

At the start of the month the Batui people from Honbola village, Bannggai, Central Sulwesi took action, occupying the site of the Donggi Senoro Liquid Natural Gas plant. This action was a way to express the problems which had emerged in the downstream area – the effect of the development was to marginalise local people through manipulation of land compensation and speculators’ scheming with the project’s initiators.

Around 300 hectares of the people’s land was seized to become the Kilang LNG project site, using false, variable or just low payment which also tended to be wrongly directed.

Donggi Senoro LNG had also lied to the public by saying that the technical details of the project were nearly finished, and it would be ready to start operating in 2014. Whereas the Central Sulawesi section of Jatam had investigated and found that there were still around 30 hectares of land out of 300 that had not been paid for. Moreover, around 80 people felt they had been treated unfairly in the manipulative process by which the company had paid for the land.

Things were also heating up in Pollung, Humbang Hasundutan Regency, North Sumatra. On Thursday 18th, local people were on alert and keeping guard, both around the Pandumaan-Sipituhuta indigenous people’s area and the Tombak Haminjon forest, where benzoin trees are grown for their resin which is used as incense.

There has been conflict about the boundaries of the ancestral land with PT Toba Pulp Lestari since 2009. Mapping of the ancestral forest had already occurred and been passed to the forestry ministry via a special committee of the Legislative council. But until then there has been no further news. And with the land’s status still unclear, the company kept felling trees and clearing the land, driving the people to protest.

The state of tension was triggered by the statement of Humbang’s police chief on Wednesday 10th which threatened to arrest eight local people who were accused of having been involved in clashes between the police and PT TPL. The people panicked and prepared to confront the police. They gathered together to guard the village, children and adults together. The indigenous people have always demanded that the problem be resolved using customary law.

In mid-October, representatives of the residents of Buol, Central Sulawesi, came to Jakarta, to demand an agreement. Their demand was to establish once and for all that land should be returned to the people after nearly 20 years under the control of an oil palm company owned by one of Indonesia’s ruling class businesswomen, Sri Hartati Murdaya: PT Hardaya Inti Plantations. Recently, the big boss has been detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission for a case of paying bribes to extend the company’s oil palm plantation permits in the same area.

Back in Buol, on the same day, thousands of people demanded the return of their land which had been taken by the company. According to the people, the company had originally obtained the land through deceitful means, intimidation and violence. In 1993, PT Hardaya Inti Plantations encroached on or evicted a large amount of land that local people had been cultivating in what is now Monunu, Tiloan and Bukal subdistricts.

The people’s resistance to the companies keeps on going. When their voices and even their screams go unheeded, riots can break out. This is what happened in South Tapanuli, North Sumatra on 29th-30th October 2012, when the people’s action ended in a fight. The people had rejected PT Agincourt Resources’ installation of a pipe containing washings from their goldmine in the Batangtoru river. The people fear the pipe will pollute the air which is the water source for around 25 villages in three subdistricts.

Nearly all the people make use of the Batangtoru River’s water, for various household needs and irrigating their crops. Their refusal of the pipeline is valid and realistic. Unfortunately the people’s cries of concern have been lost to the wind.

The people were angry. The company was escorted by hundreds of police and military, enforcing their will to continue laying the pipe. The people had repeatedly rioted since June. The security forces had anticipated the action on Monday 29th. On the second day, Tuesday 30th, the people rioted- at least one vehicle was burnt and four more damaged.

November 2012

The people of Buol were resisting once again. On 2nd November hundreds of farmers from Bukal, Momunu and Tiloan subdstricts, once again obstructed and forbade the passage of vehicles carrying crude palm oil belonging to Hartati Murdaya’s business PT Hardaya Inti Plantations.

Blocking these vehicles’ access was a protest against the company which the people believed had broken the agreement made between the two sides on October 16th.

Sudarmin Paliba, the executive director of the Wanalestari Forest Villagers’ Association in Buol, Central Sulawesi said that it was not the first time that the company had broken an agreement. Actually the company had taken no action in every single agreement made since the year 2000.

By mid-November conflicts between farmers of Jambi province, various companies and the forestry ministry were warming up once more. Unable to resolve the situation at home, they went to Jakarta in desperation. They camped outside the House of Representatives, but were evicted. Then from the 19th November, they built their village in front of the Forestry Ministry.

They came to demand that the Ministry keep its promise made on 16th December 2011 to excise the people’s land from the companies’ concession areas. In a meeting, which was attended by the Forestry Ministry General Secretary Hadi Daryanto, this agreement was made, requiring the people carry out a mapping and inventarisation of the land, which they did on their return to Jambi.

In Gorontalo Province, the people of Bubode village, Tomilito, North Gorontalo, were resisting an industrial forestry plantation, PT Gema Nusantara Jaya, which had taken their land. People supported this by signing a petition and visiting the North Gorontalo District Legislative Council on 12th November 2012.

At the District Legislative council, the people said that the company had been trying to create divisions between the people. They even accused PT GNJ of hiring thugs to intimidate them. But despite their fear of the thugs and soldiers, people were still resisting the industrial forest project. The week before the company had reported around eight villagers to the police, accusing them of damaging trees belonging to the company.

December 2012

On 12th December 2012, hundreds of farmers from Jambi Province started walking from Jambi to Jakarta. It was estimated that his long march covered a distance of about 1000 kilometers.

The farmers started walking from in front of the Jambi forest service. Walking in an orderly formation, the farmers passed around 20 cities in Jambi, South Sumatra, Lampung and Banten provinces.

Some of the places they passed included Simpang Tempino, Banyu Lincir (S. Sumatra), Sungai Lilin (S. Sumatra), Betung (S. Sumatra), Palembang (S. Sumatra), Ogan Komering Ulu (S. Sumatra), Ogan Komering Ilir (S. Sumatra), Mesuji (Lampung), Tulang Bawang (Lampung), Pesawaran (Lampung), Bandar Lampung (Lampung), Kalianda (Lampung), Bakauheni (Lampung), Merak (Banten), Cilegon (Banten), Serang (Banten), Tangeran (Banten) and Jakarta.

Several farmers had accidents along the route. This was one more action in a series of protests by farmers demanding their land be removed from the companies’ concessions. Some of the farmers had already taken action in Jakarta and are still in tents outside the Forestry Ministry.

This latest action of Jambi farmers in Jakarta, setting up camp outside the ministry, seems that it will round off 2012 and give a start to 2013. We just hope that this is not a sign that government will continue to ignore the people’s voices in years to come.

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