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Chemicals from truck kill tonnes of fish

Siar - January 13, 1999

[The following is a summary translation of two reports from Siar news service posted by Down To Earth.]

The Indorayon company (PT IIU) finished the year even further in the black books of the local community after one of its trucks accidentally tipped its load of chemicals into the River Aek Mandosi in the early hours of 30th December 1998. The accident happened near the village of Parpatulaan – around 10km from the PT IIU plant at Porsea. The truck came off the main road into ricefields irrigated by the nearby river.

The chemicals gave off a foul smell, but local people were completely prevented from approaching the accident scene by security guards. By 7am local fishfarmers from Silamosik – 1 km from the accident scene – who came to catch carp found dead fish floating in their rice fields and others dying. They immediately gathered up any remaining live fish. They said the irrigation water was blackish and smelt bad. Similar incidents were reported from Rianite, Siraituruk, Lumban Nabolon, Narumontak, Barumambing and Lumban Sirait as the River Aek Mandosi flows through ponds in these villages before joining the River Asahan.

By 9 am the fishfarmers were concerned about people's health since some fish may already have been sold in the market. When the contaminated fish were opened up, their stomach contents were black and the fish smelt bad. The local NGO, KSPPM, took photos and video recordings of the dead fish. Some local people complained that their well water had also turned black and it was a week before anyone dared to use the river water.

The fishfarmers took the dead fish to the local government office, where the administrator for the Porsea district immediately contacted Indorayon and ordered all contaminated fish to be removed from the local market. 3.2 tonnes of contaminated fish were confiscated and monitoring continues. One of the fishermen, Aris Butar Butar, said fish kills now amounted to around 40 tonnes. Indorayon have provided some to the villagers with Rp 40 million (around US$5,000) compensation, but local people say this is far from adequate.

Local people blockade factory

On the night of 9th January, the people of Balige blocked the main road to prevent trucks carrying logs from reaching the Indorayon factory. Their action was in protest about a shooting by the security forces who accompany the logging trucks to the pulp plant, recently re-opened so an environmental and social audit can be carried out. The main road was closed for 10 hours by obstacles including burning tyres. No action was taken by the security forces.

A local from Porsea told the reporter that the numbers of security forces (mobile brigade) escorting Indorayon trucks had been greatly increased since last November's violence. Whereas there used to be one military for each truck, now there is one pickup full of military for each truck, which suggests Indorayon may be paying them as guards.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the local NGO KSPPM said that 8 of the 16 people who had been held in detention by local police since the November unrest had been released but were not allowed to leave town. Two of them are reported to be school pupils. Witnesses said some of those held in detention had been tortured. It was usual for detainees to be taken to the Indorayon factory before going to the police station. "There they are beaten up by people including PT IIU staff". The Indorayon Case Legal Aid Team will shortly be investigating these claims of torture. Where serious human rights violations have clearly taken place, such as a report that someone's eyes were gouged out, these charges will be passed on to the National Human Rights Commission.