Unavoidable clashes between the people of North Polongbangkeng Sub-district and Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) on Monday morning (2/12/13) resulted in community member Yunus Daeng Empo receiving a bullet in his right thigh.
When contacted by Mongabay, Zulkarnain, Walhi South Sulawesi’s executive director, said that the incident was provoked by PTPN IV’s plan to cultivate disputed land which is the subject of an ongoing case in the Supreme Court.
On hearing about this plan, dozens of local people went to the location being guarded by 10-20 members of South Sulawesi Police Mobile Brigade. The situation heated up as PTPN XIV failed to heed the community’s protests. Yunus Daeng Empo was trying to stop the company working the land when the police shot him. “The situation became chaotic when Brimob started arresting and shooting people,” Zulkarnain said today.
He strongly criticised the police for this incident and demanded that the South and West Sulawesi police chief immediately withdraw all personnel assigned to PTPN XIV. “Stop all acts of repression related to the police’s handling of the dispute between residents and PTPN IV”.
The local situation was tense after the clash. He feared that the conflict would spread and could produce many further casualties if it wasn’t immediately managed well. Fortunately, the Takalar police directly called a meeting with the groups involved, including community leaders and the local government.
In that meeting, which took place at 16.00 in the Takalar police station, it was agreed that PTPN IV would stop all activities in the disputed area until a follow-up meeting with the Takalar District Head could take place. It was also agreed that the police would foot the shooting victim’s medical bill. “For the time being, all parties accepted the outcome of the meeting. Now the situation is becoming more calm,” said Zulkarnain.
It is not the first time that the police have shot Takalar residents in connection to their land dispute with PTPN XIV. Previously a similar incident had taken place in October 2008, by officers of the Takalar Police Station.
On 9th August 2009, clashes broke out once more, this time even worse. In 2009 the police started to send their mobile brigade to face the community’s protests. Alongside tear gas, they also shot rubber bullets, injuring six people, and seventeen people were arrested and their case brought to the courts. After this clash, the police were also seen to intimidate, terrorise and conduct house-to-house raids in the community, asking that people cease demanding land from PTPN XIV.
Many Makassar-based NGOs and the Polongbangkeng Farming Union ( Serikat Tani Polongbangkeng) have protested to the National Police Commission about Brimob’s presence in PTPN XIV’s concession. Brimob is believed to merely make the atmosphere more tense. As a result of the protest, the National Police Commission recommended that Brimob be withdrawn in line with the community’s demands. However, Brimob remained in place to guard the area.
Tensions had also arisen in late June 2013. The state-owned company used Brimob to provide security for its cultivation of disputed land. The community protested. In fact, an agreement made in a meeting in the Takalar Police station had stated that PTPN would be forbidden to cultivate land claimed by the community until the case had been settled.
The conflict between the community and PTPN XIV arose in 2007. 723 farming families in nine villages in Polongbangkeng Sub-district, Takalar, demanded that the company give the farmers back their land which the government had controlled since 1982 – an area of around 4500 hectares.
The peasants have quite a good basis for their claim, because the 25 year cultivation permit (HGU) which formed the basis for PTPN’s control over the land expired in 2004. However the land was not returned to the community, its original owners. They claim that they do not want to extend the contract because it brings them little benefit.
Most of the people living in the nine villages in Polongbangkeng Sub-district make a living from farming, although on average the land each family owns is less than one hectare. It is not uncommon for them to move away and become wage labourers because they do not have land in their home villages. “In general they only have a little land to cultivate, and their livelihoods depend on this. It is only reasonable that they will fight as hard as they can to defend this land,” said Nini Eryani, an activist with Walhi South Sulawesi who has been involved in supporting the community.
Mongabay tried to reach the Takalar Police Chief for comment, but received no reply by the time this article was published.
– Author: Wahyu Chandra