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Police arrest 43 after riot over China-backed Rempang city project

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2023

Nazarudin Latif and Pizaro Gozali Idrus (BenarNews), Jakarta – Police said Tuesday they had arrested 43 people for alleged violence while protesting a plan to move thousands of residents of Rempang island, Riau Islands, to make way for a multibillion-dollar Chinese glass factory.

Some of the nearly 1,000 people who took part in Monday's protest in Batam city threw rocks, bottles and other objects at security personnel, authorities said.

The protesters were demonstrating against a plan to relocate all 7,500 residents of Rempang, which is located near Singapore, in order to clear space for the construction of the plant, which will be part of an economic hub.

"We call on the public to calm down. Their demands and aspirations will be relayed directly to the relevant parties to find a solution," said Riau Islands spokesperson Sr. Comr. Pandra Arsyad Zahwani in a statement.

The protest turned violent when some demonstrators clashed with police and damaged public facilities outside the Batam Free Zone Authority (BP Batam) office building, Pandra said. The office is in charge of the project to develop the economic hub, Rempang Eco-City, which is expected to turn the island into an industrial, commercial and tourism center.

Rempang, a small island adjacent to Batam island and connected by bridges, covers an area of about 165 square km and is part of the Batam municipality.

Rempang Eco-City is a joint venture between BP Batam and a local company, PT Makmur Elok Graha (MEG), which has partnered with China's Xinyi International Investment Ltd., according to authority spokesperson Ariastuty Sirait. The Chinese company is a subsidiary of the world's largest glass and solar-panel maker, Xinyi Glass Holdings.

In July, Xinyi made a commitment to invest US$11.6 billion in a glass and solar-panel manufacturing plant in Indonesia, which would be the world's second largest such factory.

At the time, Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia said that if the plant came to fruition, it would create 35,000 jobs. And the entire eco-city project is expected to bring in Rp381 trillion ($26.6 billion) in investment by 2080, officials said.

The dispute over the project has been simmering for some time. Last month, thousands of people staged a protest against Rempang Eco-City, outside the Batam Authority Office.

On Thursday, a scuffle broke out when residents objected to a land measurement exercise for the project that officials conducted under heavy security. Police fired tear gas that caused some students to be hospitalized.

The small island's residents want to continue to stay in their village, which has been home to native Malay, Orang Laut and Orang Darat people since the 17th century, said Suardi, a spokesman for the Brotherhood of Indigenous Communities of Rempang Island.

"This is a legacy that we cannot lose," Suardi told a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He accused authorities of not giving them a chance to negotiate on Sept. 7, when thousands of personnel guarded the land measurement and demarcation process.

"We asked for mediation for five minutes only. But they refused to negotiate. They kept walking, the people resisted, and then there was a clash," he said.

Ariastuty said not all the island's residents oppose relocation. About 2,600 families would have to move for the project, she said.

"Some residents have started registering" to get permanent housing provided by the government as compensation, she told BenarNews.

Ariastuty said she regretted that there had been any clashes but insisted that the Batam Authority had given an opportunity for dialogue between the alliance representing the Rempang community and the government.

"We are determined to go ahead with the national strategic project as mandated by the government," she said.

'Bad communication'

On Tuesday, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the clashes had occurred because information was not made fully available to Rempang's residents.

"It was a case of bad communication," he said while on a visit to Banten.

"There was actually an agreement that the residents would be given 500 meters of land and a house, but this was not communicated well so there was a problem."

Xinyi's mammoth investment was announced during a visit by Jokowi to China in July. While meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping then, Jokowi invited more Chinese investment in renewable energy, health, and food security as well as the construction of a new Indonesian capital city in Kalimantan.

Indonesia has a potential resource of 25 billion tons of quartz sand, the main raw material for making glass and solar panels, according to official data. And China is the world's main producer of solar panels, with a 70 percent market share.

By building its plant in Indonesia, Xinyi would help Indonesia to enhance the value of its natural resources through domestic processing, officials said.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/indonesia/2023/09/13/police-arrest-43-after-riot-over-china-backed-rempang-city-project.htm