Sunday, 14 March 2010

Land use conversion rampant in Tesso Nilo National Park

Land use conversion rampant in Tesso Nilo National Park

Rizal Harahap , The Jakarta Post , Pekanbaru Mon, 03/01/2010
The Archipelago The Jakarta Post

Illegal conversion of conservation areas into oil palm plantations remains rampant in the Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau, allegedly involving high military figures, environmental activists say.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post over the weekend, Harijal Jalil, the executive director of NGO Tropika, said up to thousands of hectares had been turned into oil palm plantations and changed ownerships with the businesspeople trading on military names for publicity.

"Since the late 1990s, the land's ownerships were changed several times through a number of transactions involving heads of subdistricts," Harijal said.

An investigation conducted by a coalition of environmental NGOs in 2005, Harijal said, reveals the land was bought at Rp 500,000 per hectare.

"If nothing is done about it, I'm afraid the park that has been designated as the Sumatran elephant conservation center will completely turn into plantation areas," Harijal said.

Harijal also said to cover up their involvement, the suspected military figures avoided direct partipation in the transaction process.

"Businesspeople tend to do the transactions but parts of the purchased land were put under the ownership of the military personnel."

Businesspeople also turned to assistance from local officials, former councilors and low-level military personnel to smooth and secure their business activities.

"Such practices have made illegal conversion of land more and more uncontrollable and heavy machinery tools can easily go in and out of the park region," Harijal said.

He therefore urged the central government to take stern action against the practices and take over the authorization of the park, arguing that local institutions proved powerless in tackling the affair.

"They can start by cancelling the certificates of ownership issued by the respective subdistrict heads."

The head of the TNTN management agency, Hayani Suprahman, acknowledged the practices but said the area owned by the suspected military figure was only around 70 hectares.

The rest of the area is classified as a limited production forest area.

Hayani also said the suspected military figure was a former commander of a military district in Riau who had now been assigned in a city in East Java province's region.

"We reported the case to the military police last year, but they said they couldn't do anything because the figure had a certificate of ownership issued in 1998 by the National Land Agency *BPN* in Indragiri Hulu."