Yulia Savitri, Lahat, South Sumatra – Years of conflict between residents of Pagar Batu village and oil palm plantation company PT Artha Prigel in Lahat regency, South Sumatra, reached a climax recently as company security guards allegedly killed two farmers from the village.
Lahat Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Irwansyah said a security guard, identified as 38-year-old UB, had been named a suspect for allegedly stabbing the two farmers: Putra, 32, and Sumarlin, 38.
"We are still investigating the case and questioning other witnesses. It is possible that we will name new suspects later," Irwansyah said.
The conflict has been ongoing since 1993, when the company forced Pagar Batu residents to give up their land in exchange for what they considered paltry compensation. According to the village's youth forum, the total area of the disputed land is about 180 hectares.
"We're still defending our land because it is the source of our livelihoods. There's no more farm land in the village. Where else would we make our livings," a resident named Andriansyah told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, adding that the villagers had produced coffee, durian and rubber on the land for generations.
PT Artha Prigel is a subsidiary of PT Bukit Barisan Indah Permai of the Sawit Mas Group. The government granted the company an additional 35-year permit to cultivate the 2000 ha of land in 2006.
After the New Order regime collapsed in 1998, the villagers made an effort to reclaim their land, urging the company to return it 20 years later, in 2018.
Several efforts to bring the two parties to terms have been made but to no avail. Lahat Regent Cik Ujang arranged a proposal for the company to give up 20 percent of its plantation area to villagers under the plasma smallholders scheme, in which the villagers would sell the produce to the company.
The offer was rejected, and villagers kept working the land without an agreement.
On the morning of March 21, the plantation company moved to evict the villagers from the land. A number of company security guards, accompanied by police officers carrying rifles, arrived to enforce the eviction.
Villagers resisted, and violence broke out between the two groups. In addition to the two farmers who died during the clash, two others were injured. They were taken to the Lahat General Hospital.
The clash ended after the police fired warning shots and company security personnel withdrew from the land.
"The dead farmers have been buried. Their graves are a symbol of our fight. The injured farmers are recovering," said Andriansyah.
Civil society organizations, including the South Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and the Palembang Legal Aid Institute, lambasted what they considered the company's aggression. They wrote an open letter to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
"We urge the President to evaluate palm oil plantation permits that have been leading to land conflicts," South Sumatra Walhi executive director Hairul Sobri said.
He said the police should uncover the truth instead of defending one party in the conflict. He said facts had been manipulated regarding the naming of suspects.
"The National Police should also investigate the regional police for providing security assistance to the company during the conflict."
Pagar Batu villagers have demanded that the government investigate the case thoroughly and work to settle the ongoing land dispute.
PT Artha Prigel spokesperson Yulius Rafli did not respond The Jakarta Post's request for comment. (aly)