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Indonesian farmers demand fair land conflict settlement

Publication Date : 24-09-2012


Thousands of farmers in Indonesia's North Sumatra, Lampung, West and East Java are slated to take to the streets in observance of National Farmers Day and demand the government settle agrarian conflicts fairly.

In Medan, North Sumatra, some 2,000 farmers from various regions in the province have planned to hold a massive rally today at the provincial legislature building and gubernatorial office to press relevant authorities to settle thousands of unresolved land conflicts, mostly with state-run and private plantations.

The farmers, affiliated with the Farmers Litigation Committee (KTM), plan to urge North Sumatra interim Governor Gatot Pujo Nugroho to sign a petition containing their demands to resolve thousands of land disputes in the province.

KTM spokesman Johan Merdeka said the protesting farmers would occupy the gubernatorial office should Nugroho fail to respond to the farmers' demands.

"The crowd will resort to anarchy if the interim government fails to respond to the issue," Merdeka told The Jakarta Post yesterday.

According to Merdeka, preparations for the rally have been thoroughly consolidated as farming communities hailing from various regions, such as Deli Serdang, Langkat, Serdang Bedagai, Batubara, Asahan, North Labuhan Batu, South Labuhan Batu and Central Tapanuli regencies, were expected to attend.

He added that farmers who would be involved in the rally today were mainly those involved in land disputes in their villages.

"The current condition of farmers in the regions is of grave concern. They are often suppressed and subject to violence by security personnel every time a dispute takes place," he said, adding that security forces should not be heavy-handed in facing protesters tomorrow so as to avoid chaos.

North Sumatra Agrarian Reform (RAS) joint secretariat coordinator Ahmadsyah said the police's disproportional response in resolving issues associated with farming, especially land disputes, had often been blamed for widespread conflicts.

Ahmadsyah said the land disputes involving farmers in North Sumatra tended to rise from year to year. He added that last year, 25 land disputes were recorded in the province. As of July this year, added Ahmadsyah, 27 cases of land disputes had been recorded, surpassing last year's figure in just six months.

"This year, North Sumatra has had the worst record in terms of agrarian conflicts. Police have often opted for intimidation, violence and even shootings in resolving land disputes in the province," said Ahmadsyah.

RAS information and recording team leader Saurlin Siagian said police had arrested 147 farmers in various regencies in North Sumatra in ownership disputes in the past seven months.

Siagian added a majority of those arrested were currently facing legal proceedings. Six of them have been sentenced to between six months and two years in prison for vandalism and oil palm theft.

According to Siagian, the roundup of the 147 farmers was the biggest in the history of agrarian conflict in the province.

"The arrest of farmers this year is the worst in the past 14 years," said Siagian.

When contacted about the planned rally by thousands of farmers today, Medan Police chief Monang Situmorang hoped the rally would be carried out peacefully and non-violently. Situmorang urged the farmers not to resort to anarchy when expressing their aspirations.

"Please do demonstrate but don't resort to anarchy," he said.

Thousands of farmers, as well as the victims of the Mesuji tragedy in North Lampung and South Sumatra, also planned to stage protests at the governors offices in Palembang and Bandar Lampung to demand a fair solution to the prolonged dispute between local farmers and private palm oil plantations in the two provinces.

Spokesman for the Moromoro Farmers's Association in Bandar Lampung, Syahrul Sidin, said they would blockade the East Highway to seek national attention to their grievances.

"It is a good moment for us to press the authorities to avoid the use of force in land dispute settlement and to take the farmers' side in seeking a fair solutions with giant plantation companies," he said as quoted by Antara news agency.


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