Ivany Atina Arbi, Jakarta – To celebrate Independence Day on Aug. 17 at the Presidential Palace, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo wore an indigenous outfit from Timor Tengah Selatan regency, East Nusa Tenggara. His choice of attire has brought attention to a land dispute that after years has resulted in the forced eviction of an indigenous community in the regency.
Several media outlets ran headlines drawing a connection between the outfit the President wore on Independence Day and the forced eviction, which occurred one day later.
Various organizations condemned the East Nusa Tenggara administration's "repressive" approach toward the Besipae indigenous community, who refused to give up their customary land in Pubabu forest, which the administration claimed as its own.
The Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) said in a statement that joint personnel from the police and public order agency had destroyed dozens of Besipae community settlements built within the Pubabu forest in Linamnutu village of Manuban Selatan district, Timor Tengah Selatan.
The incident took place on Tuesday, causing 37 families to lose their homes.
"The security personnel verbally and physically abused the community during the forced eviction. They particularly targeted women and children. Witnesses heard three gunshots along the way," the statement said.
AMAN secretary-general Rukka Sombolinggi condemned the incident, calling it "a violation of human rights". She urged the administration to use a persuasive approach rather than a repressive one.
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) released a statement after meeting the community about the dispute recently. Komnas HAM commissioner Beka Ulung Hapsara vowed "to soon arrange a visit to the site" to help find a solution to the case.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) separately explained that similar violence had also occurred in February, in which joint security personnel forcibly expelled three families living in a building claimed by the East Nusa Tenggara administration as its asset.
The dispute had apparently lasted for years, after logging in Pubabu forest had depleted the clean water source of the community, a document from Walhi said.
In 2013, when an agreement between the community and the East Nusa Tenggara administration regarding use of the forest ended, the conflict escalated.
In 1987, the Besipae community, which had inhabited the forest for generations, gave authorities permission to use the land as a cattle farm, under a collaboration with the Australian government. The agreement was supposed to end in 2012.
Two years before the expiry date, however, local authorities proposed an extension. It was rejected by the community, which wanted to return the forest to its "Nais Kio" (prohibited area) status. Nais Kio, according to the Besipae group's customs, is intended as a habitat for wildlife and should not be managed by anyone. Hunting is prohibited on the land.
The administration issued in 2013 a certificate of right of use over a 3,780 hectare area in the forest, which eventually triggered a conflict with the community. Authorities then intimidated the community before forcing them to leave the land, Walhi said.
East Nusa Tenggara head of regional revenues and assets, Zeth Sony Libing, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that the administration had provided 800 square meters for the 37 families to use.They planned to use 3,780 ha to cultivate moringas and keep cattle. "The administration holds a land certificate to use this land," he said, claiming that the 37 families had "squatted" on the land.
Besides the 800 sq m, East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat had permitted the 37 families to work on the 3,780 ha as long as they did not claim ownership of it.
Sony claimed that the 37 families were "newcomers" who wanted to profit from the land. He also claimed that the administration had the right to use the land after an indigenous figure, Raja Nabuasa, gave the land to the administration. Raja Nabuasa is dead now.
The Walhi head in the province, Umbu Wulang Tanaamahu, told the Post that the families were members of the indigenous community, not newcomers occupying the land like Sony claimed.
– Djemi Amnifu contributed to this story from Kupang.