Wednesday, 28 December 2011

In Occupied Mesuji, a Land Long Riven by Power and Politics

Daniel Pye | December 27, 2011

Mesuji, Lampung. “We need to make a new model for how we distribute power in the countryside,” retired Maj. Gen. Saurip Kadi told a crowd of people huddled under a tent where their village meeting hall once stood. 

The former general was leading a delegation to Mesuji, Lampung, on Monday to publicly record for the first time testimony from the relatives of villagers killed in a land dispute with palm oil and rubber companies. 

The relatives of villagers allegedly killed by police and paramilitary forces in the pay of those firms met with representatives of religious groups, human rights activists and media to demand a dialogue with the central government and the companies. 

They say palm oil companies Bangun Nusa Indah Lampung and Silva Inhutani, among others, have carried out a systematic campaign of violence and intimidation since 2008 which has led to 32 deaths and the destruction of their livelihoods, forcing them from their lands. 

The companies deny the allegations. Police have countered the release of a gruesome video showing a company-ordered raid on the villages by releasing footage they claim shows the destruction of company property. 

The delegation, which included a member of the House of Representatives, Nudirman Munir of the Golkar Party, attempted to visit the BNIL factory but was prevented from entering by several dozen police officers. 

Previously, residents of Mesuji’s scattered villages and camps had been afraid to speak out, they said. But the presence of Saurip, television cameras and a lawmaker from the central government visibly bolstered their resolve. 

Occupy Mesuji 

Following the killings and subsequent exodus from parts of Mesuji in April, villagers returned to find their houses destroyed. The only permanent structure remaining in Register 45 is the burnt shell of a mosque, perched on a hill overlooking what is now a small displaced persons camp. 

Villagers have pledged to continue occupying land held by palm oil firm BNIL in the Register 45 area until the central government holds those responsible for the violence to account. 

Some 20 families are now living in tents on the site, and the local branch of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) has helped build a clinic where Occupied Mesuji’s first baby was born on Sunday. 

“We will continue to occupy our traditional lands, the lands of the Megou Pak,” said Surdi, 42, an elder of Kampung Banjar, in reference to Lampung’s indigenous tribe. “There are few of us here, but if BNIL does not return the land to us according to our customary rights, we will bring more people to occupy our land.” 

“We are willing to die to demand our rights,” he continued. “We are Indonesian citizens who have the same right to life as everyone else.” 

The Megou Pak have lived in the area for generations and claim land rights under customary law, known asadat, which isn’t fully recognized by the courts. Members of the tribe were evicted from the Tunggal Jaya hamlet on Sept. 8 and some now live in the Register 45 camp. 

BNIL and Silva were granted plantation contracts under recent laws, such as the 2004 Law on Plantations, that extended local governments’ power to issue concessions. Those powers were limited under the 1960 Agrarian Law, the basis for many land transactions in the past. 

A history of violence 

The conflict over land in Mesuji began long before 2008. One woman who wished to remain anonymous said that in 1999, her hamlet — which is situated less than a kilometer from Register 45, down a pot-holed road flanked by palm oil trees — was bulldozed along with six others to make way for coconut and palm oil concessions. 

“I had four children, and two of them went missing during the time of aggression of the owners of that plantation,” she said, pointing behind the tent where she now lives with her husband. 

Saurip, who spearheaded the latest investigation into the killings, blames a lack of political will on the part of the president for the tortuously slow progress on the case, which has been taken up by “all of the human rights groups in the country.” 

He said the government’s move to blame National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo for rising violence against civilians across the country was misguided and showed a lack of understanding of the issues. 

“What happened in Lampung goes back to the Suharto era. Now that Indonesia is democratic, people can see what is going on. It is very simple. Nothing has changed in the way land is managed,” he said. “It all comes down to who can pay the most. 

“Capital is king in today’s Indonesia, as it was under Suharto. There is no justice and the government is more supportive to business than to the people.” 

Saurip, along with other members of the delegation, spoke of a growing need to address the issue of land rights in Indonesia. 

“The case of Mesuji is just one case out of many abuses across Indonesia. Companies are granted land licenses by the central government, but in most cases the people who live there have done so for many years,” he said. 


A member of PAM Swakarsa, the private militia of the plantation companies, has come forward to refute claims made by the police that a video showing officers shooting and then decapitating villagers was faked. 

Trubus, 34, said he had replied to a job advertisement under the impression that he would be working in forest preservation. Instead, he was told to spy on the people of Mesuji. 

“All the events shown in the video were in Mesuji,” Trubus said. “I know, because I was holding the camera. 

“There has been conflict over the land for many years, but then the company formed what they called an ‘integrated task force’ to clear the villages.” 

Trubus (not his real name) said at least two palm oil and rubber companies had paid the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP), Forestry Ministry officials, the local police and PAM Swakarsa a total of Rp 7 billion ($770,000) to force transmigrant communities and the Megou Pak from lands they had farmed for many years. 

“In April, I saw bodies lying in the street and as I walked through the streets I found two severed heads on top of a jeep,” he said. 

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has appointed the Deputy Law and Human Rights Minister Denny Indrayana to lead a joint fact-finding team to investigate the allegations of systematic murder for profit. 

But the campaigners expressed little hope that the probe would help ease Mesuji’s pain. 

“The main problem here is a lack of political will at the top,” Saurip said. “This is about justice and empowering the poor people of the countryside.” 

The land around Register 45 is fertile and can sustain healthy crops, but several villagers said they may be forced to move to land five kilometers down the road. 

“I may have to leave with my family if something doesn’t happen soon,” said Wayan, 48, a lanky man with mournful eyes. “The land over there is virtually worthless. This is completely unsustainable. 

“Under our Constitution, the land is sacred and belongs to the people. That doesn’t include already wealthy foreign firms that come here to exploit and care nothing for the people who rely on the land to survive.”

No comments:

Post a Comment