Saturday, 27 December 2008

Amnesty calls for probe into fatal shooting

Last week, with the predictable approval of the Minister of Forestry, prosecutions were dropped against illegal loggers.Soon after, this is what happened to some of those who complained about the loggers.


Amnesty calls for probe into fatal shooting

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta 27th December 2008

Rights group Amnesty International urged Indonesian police Wednesday to investigate a crackdown on protesting villagers in which hundreds of houses were destroyed in Riau.

Two children died following the violence and nearly 400 people were left homeless last week after police and other officials fired bullets and tear gas while evicting residents of Seluk Bongkal village, Amnesty said in a statement.

"Hundreds of people are now living in the forest, their homes destroyed, and two families are grieving the loss of their children," campaigner Josef Benedict said in the statement published on its official website Wednesday.

The global rights group also called on police to allow the National Commission on Human Rights and the local government access to the area to ensure the safety of the villagers.

Quoting local sources, Amnesty said a two-year-old girl died after falling down a well during the clash, while a two-month-old baby died from burns. Two other people were injured from gunshots.

The villagers have been engaged in a land dispute with pulpwood supplier PT Arara Abadi, a subsidiary of Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper, since the forestry ministry awarded the company rights to develop the area in 1996.

Spokesman for the Riau police Adj. Sr. Comr. Zulkifli said 79 members of the Riau Labor Union (STR) had been detained for allegedly inciting the unrest. Following the incident, a platoon of police personnel stood guard at the disputed area, located around 180 kilometers north of the provincial capital of Pekanbaru.

Representatives from six local NGOs went to the Riau police Wednesday to express their support for an investigation into the individuals behind the incident.

"This support for a police investigation suggests there are people who regret the actions of the labor union," Zulkifli said.

The clash erupted after around 800 local residents, all suspected members of the STR, resisted a police order to leave a property they claimed ownership of Thursday last week. Police opened fire when residents wielded sharp weapons and threw stones at the officers, police said.

General Manager of PT Arara, Nurul Huda, said the eviction concluded 20 reports it had filed against the residents, who he said had occupied the company's land for years.

"The land belongs to the state, we only lease it," he said, dismissing allegations that the company had brought in the police to evict the people.