Jakarta – The Banyuwangi municipal police say that a clash in the Pesanggaran sub-district of Banyuwangi, East Java, in late March was trigged by a protest by a group of people opposing a mine operated by the company PT Bumi Suksesindo (BSI) on the pretext of preventing the spread of the corona virus.
Banyuwangi Municipal Police Chief (Kapolresta) Senior Commissioner Arman Asmara Syarifuddin claimed that the action by those opposing the mine took advantage of the corona virus issue to pressure the closure of mining activities.
"The intent and aim of the protesters was still [the same] wanting the company PT. BSI to halt operations by holding a blockade, the impact of which was disrupting the PT BSI's operational activities", said Syarifuddin in a written release sent to CNN Indonesia on Sunday April 12.
The incident began on the evening of Thursday March 26 when a group opposing the mine blocked 22 logistics vehicles belonging to PT BSI. The action took place at the Lowi Simpang 3 intersection located in the Silirbaru hamlet in Sumberagung village, Pesanggaran.
Police asked the drivers to get ready to move off but the demonstrators continued protesting so police had to postpone the vehicles departure.
Police also asked Sumberagung village head Vivin Agustin to mediate with the protesters but they continued standing their ground until Friday afternoon. Earlier on Friday at around 11 am, around 60 people held a sit-down protest in the middle of the road calling on the mining company to halt its operations.
"The action was held after mediations with PT BSI, which were facilitated by the Banyuwangi Kapolresta, who brought in the sub-district leadership forum, failed to reach an agreement", said Syarifuddin.
The action continued until around 3 pm when Syarifuddin took a decision to forcibly break up the protest. As many as one platoon level unit, Rayon 210 Sectoral Police personnel and 22 female police officers were deployed.
After the provost had ensured that none of the officers were carrying fire arms, they proceeded to break up the blockade. Female police officers removed women and children to a safe place while the other officers formed a line to allow the vehicles to get by.
After the protesters were disbanded, the police returned to Banyuwangi city. A short time later however there was news that the anti-mine protesters had been attacked and assaulted by a pro-mining group. The anti-mine protesters responded by throwing rocks and damaging houses.
The police were recalled to the location with as many as 100 paramilitary Mobile Brigade (Brimob) from the East Java regional police put on alert. The police then evacuated some 120 people from the pro-mining group to the Pancer village Mustika beach.
After the situation had returned to normal, said Syarifuddin, police conducted an investigation and arrested several people in connection with the riot.
"One pro-mining person could be declared a suspect because the person committed the initial assault on a victim and six anti-mine protesters have been declared suspects [charged]. The six people damaged three motorcycles, broke three windows of a house with rocks, and the window of a parked car", said Syarifuddin.
Syarifuddin claimed that on Thursday March 30 both parties have agreed to maintain security and police have empowered religious and social figures to prevent another clash occurring.
Earlier, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition urged President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to order Indonesian Police Chief (Kapolri) General Idham Azis to stop police officers from using violence against environmental activists in the midst of the corona virus epidemic.
The group noted that there have been a number of violent incidents from initiation to the murder of environmental activists. One of these was violence against activists opposing the mine who held the action in Banyuwangi.
"President Jokowi [must] order the Kapolri to stop violence against people fighting for their rights and sources of living", Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Food, Water and Essential Ecosystems Campaign Manager Wahyu A Perdana told CNN Indonesia on Wednesday April 8.
Meanwhile, PT Merdeka Copper Corporate Communications officer Tom Malik said that the incident began on Thursday March 26 when scores of people opposing the mine (Poktolak) blocked PT BSI logistics vehicles at the Lowi intersection. The blockade however was broken up by Banyuwangi municipal police the next day.
"After police left the area the Poktolak protesters who were dissatisfied because their blockade was broken up became anarchic and intimidated some BSI employees who were coincidentally passing by. A female BSI employee was injured after she was kicked off her motorcycle", Malik said in a press release received by CNN Indonesia on Saturday April 11.
Malik said that this triggered anger among residents and BSI workers although this had been anticipated by security personnel so they did not take any action in response.
Malik added however that people opposing the mine who had gathered at a tent a 12 midnight on Saturday allegedly attacked the Pancer hamlet and targeted houses belonging to BSI workers. PT BSI is a subsidiary of the PT Merdeka Copper.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Polisi Ungkap Kronologi Bentrok Tambang di Banyuwangi".]