Jon Afrizal, Jambi – Members of Suku Anak Dalam (SAD), grouping remote indigenous communities in Jambi, are marching from their villages to the State Palace to demand that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo help them resolve a land dispute with palm oil company PT Berkas Sawit Utama (BSU).
"We want our land conflict with BSU to be resolved immediately," said Amiruddin Todak, a SAD member taking part in the long march.
The indigenous people started marching from Jambi on Wednesday, with a visit to the Jambi governor's office and a mass gathering at Jambi City Square.
National Agricultural Forum (Prana) general secretary Mawardi said the march was a plea for help as many agricultural conflicts remained unresolved in Jambi, several of which involved SAD.
"These tenurial conflicts have remained unresolved for decades," he said.
SAD is demanding that the President and the Agriculture Ministry reject any application for an extension to BSU's land use permit before the company agrees to return 3,500 hectares of land that indigenous communities claim to be theirs.
The indigenous people are basing their claim on a July 11, 1987 survey by the Environment and Forestry Ministry, as well as an official letter from the Agriculture Ministry dated March 19, 2016.
"We ask the President and the National Police chief to ensure the protection of SAD and guarantee the return of our 3,500 ha of land," Amiruddin said.
Mahyuddin, another SAD member who is participating in the march, said the government must take legal action against BSU, formerly known as PT Asiatic Persada. He said the company had cleared vast amounts of land to establish oil palm plantations in conservation forests.
SAD has suggested that the government establish a state department for the empowerment of indigenous people based on Article 33 of the Constitution and the 1960 Agriculture Law to help resolve issues plaguing indigenous communities in remote areas.
It is the latest of a growing number of long marches to meet Jokowi at the State Palace.
On Aug. 12, Mahmuddin, a 52-year-old man from Wonosobo regency, Central Java, finished walking 470 kilometers from his hometown to the State Palace in the hope of meeting Jokowi as well as to commemorate the country's 74th Independence Day.
On Aug. 7, Lilik Yuliantoro, a 28-year-old sculptor from Blora, Central Java, finished walking more than 500 kilometers from Yogyakarta to Jakarta to hand a leather puppet of Javanese folklore character Sengkuni to Jokowi. It was an attempt to mock senior politician Amien Rais, a vocal critic of the President who reportedly vowed that he would walk from Yogyakarta to Jakarta if Jokowi won the 2019 presidential election. (rfa)