Thursday, 24 September 2009

Community protests eviction and land seizure in N. Sumatra

Apriadi Gunawan , The Jakarta Post , Medan | Thu, 09/24/2009

Members of a traditional community in North Sumatra are protesting a government decision that will see them evicted and their palm oil plantations in Padang Laws regency repossessed by the state.

The decision will also allow 42 oil palm companies, two of which are foreign based, to exploit the protected forest in the register 40 area of the Padang Lawas regency.

The traditional community claims the government plans to seize the oil palm plantations belonging to the traditional community, which has lived in the area for the past seven generations, so that mining companies can exploit the register 40 area.

The oil palm plantations that span 47 hectares are cultivated by the traditional clan.

The decision to seize the land was stipulated in an official report on the submission of seized assets issued by the North Sumatra Prosecutor's Office to the North Sumatra Forestry Office on Aug. 26, 2009.

However, the government has yet to repossess the 47 hectares of oil palm plantations designated in the report.

Simangambat traditional tribal elder, Tongku Lubuk Raya Hasibuan, said the government's seizure of oil palm plantations owned by the traditional community was a violation of human rights.

He said the local community would fight until they had "shed their last drop of blood" if the government decided to seize their land.

"The government has hurt us, so we must fight. Why has it only seized our farms and not the other plantations owned by the 42 companies, whose operational areas are larger than ours. They have even tended to protect the areas owned by companies. Why is this happening?" Tongku told The Jakarta Post in Medan recently.

Tongku said the land they had managed as oil palm plantations was part of customary land protected under basic agrarian law.

Tongku also said that residents had applied for land ownership titles to strengthen their claim.

"Members of the community own a total 1,820 land titles in the register 40 area," said Tongku, adding that every title was issued by the National Land Agency (BPN).

A member of the traditional clan's legal team, Sarluhut Napitupulu, said his team had urged the government to cease its plan to seize the farms of local residents equipped with land titles issued by the BPN.

According to him, the traditional group in Padang Lawas regency were distressed about the planned seizure of their land by the state.

"The lives of some 6,000 families depend on oil palm yields, but the government has suddenly decided to seize their land, while the 42 estate companies, whose plantations are larger, have never been questioned. This is very strange," said Sarluhut, adding that based on reports, each of the families earned Rp 2.7 million per month from their oil palm plantations.

Sarluhut said the 42 estate companies had been living in the area spanning more than 131,000 hectares since 1998.

He added that companies operating in the register 40 area included PT Mujur Timber, PT Mujur Plantations and PT Eka Pendawa Sakti owned by the Lis family. PT Eka Pendawa Sakti was recently sold to a foreign investor from Australia and changed its name to PT Ausindo Nusantara Jaya Agri.

One of the Lis family members, Adelin Lis, is on a police wanted list for his involvement in illegal logging in a protected forest in Central Tapanuli regency, but was acquitted by the Medan District Court.

Prosecutors filed for an appeal at the Supreme Court over the court ruling.

Local forestry office head J. Siringo-Ringo confirmed the reports, saying recently the government had yet to take action against the companies operating in register 40 because they had not yet been legally processed. The case of the traditional community, he said, had already been legally processed and they had been found guilty, so every asset, including oil palm plantations and buildings would be repossessed by the state.

Asked when the 42 companies would be legally processed as well, Siringo-Ringo said, "We must investigate their presence in register 40," he said.

He denied the government, in this case the Forestry Ministry, had been partial in its handling of the case.