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Indorayon Conflict: one dead and forty missing

Detik - June 22, 2000

A Ismail/Swastika & LM, Jakarta – The continuing conflict between the people of Porsea village, North Sumatra, with PT Inti Indorayon Utama (IIU) has claimed the life of Herman Sitorus, an engineering highschool student shot by a North Tapanuli police subprecinct officer in a heated brawl Wednesday.

This bloody confrontation was triggered by a group of "ninjas" who kidnapped at least 13 people from several villages from the Joint Community Post at Sirait Uruk, North Sumatra on Tuesday night.

According to a press release issued by the Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi) early on Thursday, so far only the fact that 13 victims were taken has been established. The condition of a further 27 people remains unknown.

Once news of the kidnappings spread, 2000-3000 people from Porsea demonstrated at the Parparean city centre demanding the release of the 13 people fom their village on Wednesday at 9am local time. Mass looting broke out and casued an extensive traffic jam.

North Tapanuli police subprecinct and mobile brigade officers arrived on the spot at noon and immediately tried to disperse the demonstrators. The people resisted by yelling and throwing stones.

The confrontation continued to escalate until shots fired by an officer killed the young man and injured several others. The officers then immediately fled. 5 houses belonging to people who supported the Indorayon factory were utterly destroyed.

Publicly listed pulp, fiber and rayon firm PT Inti Indorayon Utama was given the green light to continue operations at it's pulp plant in Porsea, North Sumatra, following the government's recent decision to allow it reopen the factory.

Indorayon's pulp and fiber factories have been closed since mid- 1998 when then president B.J. Habibie decided to suspend operations following prolonged protests from local residents who complained of extensive environmental damage. The factory is around 50 kilometers from the majestic Lake Toba.

Walhi condemned the senseless death and urged the government to establish an independent team to investigate the case. Walhi also urged the Police Chief of Staff to immediately clarify the use of force against the villagers and claimed that the police were legally, morally and materially responsible for the incident.

Furthermore Walhi urged the government, especially the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Industry and Trade to postpone the reopening of the pulp and fiber factory until they have conducted a comprehensive study into the damage sustained by the environment as a result of Indorayon's activities.