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Komnas HAM probes fatal shooting of villager protesting palm oil firm

Benar News - October 10, 2023

Tria Dianti, Jakarta – The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said Monday it would investigate a deadly clash between police and villagers in Central Kalimantan who were protesting against a palm oil company for allegedly failing to allocate them land as promised under a cooperation scheme.

In Saturday's incident in Bangkal village in Seruyan regency, one protester was killed and two others were wounded, allegedly by bullets, although police denied using live ammunition.

Disputes between plantation companies and local communities over land rights were the most common cause of agrarian disputes in Indonesia, accounting for 37 percent of the 1,023 conflicts recorded last year, according to a land rights group, the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA). The palm oil industry is a driver of the economy in Kalimantan, the Indonesian section of Borneo island.

The group said security forces fired tear gas and live bullets at the villagers, killing a local resident and wounding two others. At least 20 other protesters were arrested, it said.

Komnas HAM chair Atnike Nova Sigiro urged the Central Kalimantan police, the regency's government and the public "to refrain from using violence and prioritize dialogue to find a solution to this problem."

"We will investigate the violent incident," she told BenarNews.

She also urged the Central Kalimantan police chief to enforce the law against police officers or other parties who used violence that caused death and serious injuries.

Bangkal's villagers were protesting against palm oil company PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada I, which they accused of reneging on the promise to allocate them land, the land rights group said.

The company, a subsidiary of palm oil conglomerate Best Group Agro International, and its sister firm had a history of agrarian conflict with villagers in Seruyan and neighboring Kotawaringin Timur regency, the group said.

"We urge the authorities to release the detained villagers, withdraw security forces from the conflict area, investigate human rights violations by the company and security forces, revoke the company's land use permit and implement agrarian reform for the villagers," Dewi Kartika, the secretary general of the group, said in a statement.

Land conflicts common

The Central Kalimantan police said they were investigating the incident.

Central Kalimantan Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Erlan Munaji was quoted by WartaBanjar, a local news outlet, as insisting that the officers at the scene had only used tear gas, blanks and rubber bullets.

"They did not use live ammunition," he said. "If there are any violations by our members, we will not hesitate to punish them," he said.

Land conflicts are common in Indonesia, where millions of people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Palm oil is one of the country's main exports and a source of income for many rural communities. But it is also a driver of deforestation and environmental degradation.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has pledged to resolve land disputes and protect peatlands as part of his efforts to combat climate change.

But he has also enacted a controversial "omnibus" law that aims to simplify regulations and attract investment. Critics say the law undermines labor rights and environmental protections.

KPA said 69 people had died in land conflicts since Jokowi came to power in 2014.

Abetnego Tarigan, deputy chief of the presidential staff office, did not immediately respond to phone calls or text messages from BenarNews.

The villagers in Central Kalimantan were seeking to enforce a 2013 pact with the company that would grant each household two hectares of land, activists said. They also wanted to manage 443 of 1,175 hectares of the land controlled by the company.

But the company never honored the agreement, they said.

Tensions rose last month when villagers rallied near the company's plantation and blocked the road, prompting police to fire tear gas to disperse them, said Dewi of the KPA.

Last week, the company rejected the villagers' demands during a meeting attended by representatives of the government and locals, Dewi said.

Saturday's incident was a human rights violation, according to Dimas Bagus Arya Saputra, the coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

"The police should have avoided using deadly force," Dimas told BenarNews, citing a national police regulation that sets guidelines for controlling crowds.

He also called for reforming the way the police are evaluated, both internally and externally, to hold accountable those who use excessive force.

"The police have not changed their approach because there is no deterrence," he said.

The police acted as security guards for the wealthy and not as protectors of the people, said Muhammad Isnur, the chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation.

"We believe that the police have not learned from their mistakes of using brutal and repressive tactics against peaceful protests," he said.

"The police must arrest and prosecute those who were involved in the shooting and release the 20 villagers who were detained by force."

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/indonesia/2023/10/10/komnas-ham-probes-fatal-shooting-of-villager-protesting-palm-oil-firm.htm