World Rainforest Movement

Indonesia: The paper that brought violence and death

Once more, the conflict over natural resources has played havoc on humble people. This time the criminal action took place on the settlement of Suluk Bongkal, Beringin, in the district of Bengkali, Riau Province, Sumatra.

On 18th December 2008 hundreds of police and paramilitaries stormed the village with tear gas and guns. A helicopter which appears to belong to PT Arara Abadi dropped an incendiary bomb on the village burning hundreds of houses allegedly with napalm. Tear gas and fire arms were used. Two toddlers were killed and many people were injured while others have been arrested. Some 400 villagers have fled into the forest in the mountains and just 58 people have remained in the village. Two days later, a helicopter flew at low height over the tents of homeless villagers and bombarded them with stones. They are under extreme psychological pressure. 

The attack was aimed at evicting the population who have been enduring a long-standing land rights conflict with the plantation company PT Arara Abadi, a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas Group, a company owned by Eka Tjipta Wijaya, to which Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) also belongs. Arara Abadi operates the largest industrial tree plantation in Indonesia to supply wood to the pulp and paper factory Indah Kiat. In Riau alone, Arara Abadi has concessions over more than 350,000 hectares. 

The environmental organisation WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) denounces that most of those tree plantations were set up in contravention of Indonesian legislation: Forestry legislation has been ignored, monocultures have been established on steep slopes which are at an angle of more than 30°, in water catchment areas, in areas with high biodiversity and on land belonging to local communities. Local people are losing the right to their land, without receiving fair and timely compensation and are becoming ever poorer as they lose access to and control of the country’s natural riches.

WALHI believes that the violence in Suluk Bongkal, Bengkalis-Riau reflects the way in which natural resources are being treated in Indonesia, in a way which creates ever more conflicts and removes essential resources from the Indonesian population. 

The conflict began in 1984, when PT Arara Abadi claimed the land and destroyed 200 graves of the indigenous Sakai people. Since then the conflict and violence has been escalating. 

The people must be given back sovereignty over the resources on which their livelihoods depend. The government must restructure the pulp and paper industry as well as reviewing licenses for large-scale tree monocultures. “WALHI demands that the Indonesian government withdraws the license from PT Arara Abadi, ends the violence against people and all measures to isolate the village, releases those who have been detained and returns all property stolen from the people” says Berry Nahdian Forquan. “WALHI also demands strong measures against those responsible for the violence.”

“WALHI is strongly opposed to any use of state violence against the population for the purpose of defending industry interests” says WALHI’s Director. “This police and paramilitary action constitutes a violation of human rights”, he states. 

We encourage readers to support demands by WALHI that the state authorities must guarantee the human rights of the population and investigate and punish those responsible for this crime, and that the business permit granted to the plantation company in question must be withdrawn and that the rights of the population must not be sacrificed for companies’ economic interests, by signing a letter posted at Rettet den Regenwald’s website (http://www.regenwald.org/international/englisch/protestaktion.php?id=345) to be sent to authorities in Indonesia. 

The working group for democracy, human rights and environmental protection in Indonesia and East Timor, Watch Indonesia!, also demands “an immediate investigation of this new human rights abuse, compensation for the local population and a guarantee of their safety and rights, as well as punishment of those responsible for the violence. We demand that European governments and companies examine their links to companies such as Sinar Mas which are responsible for human rights abuses. Europe’s excessive consumption bears some of the responsibility for the growing use of violence in land conflicts over paper, palm oil, gold and other raw materials. Sumatra is not the only place where people are being violently evicted for mass production of paper.” 

Article based on press releases by WALHI, sent by Ade Fadli, adefadli@walhi.or.id, and Watch Indonesia! at http://lists.topica.com/lists/indonesia-act@igc.topica.com/read/message.html?sort=t&mid=813357752