Rangga Prakoso, Ismira Lutfia & Markus Junianto Sihaloho
Just two days after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono delivered a speech on land conflicts across the country, violence erupted during a land dispute in Limbang Jaya, South Sumatra, on Friday.
Police officers fired into a crowd, resulting in the death of a 12-year-old boy and several injuries.
The shooting is the latest deadly incident in a series of land-related conflicts between local residents and companies since the fall of Suharto in 1998. Some observers put the blame for the violence squarely on the government, saying the disputes have been stoked by murky regulations and rampant bribery in the land agency.
Most of the disputes pit residents against companies that have moved onto land that they claim, setting off usually protracted ownership disputes.
And when companies hire police officers or soldiers to guard their land and offices, adding guns to the mix, the violence has a tragic way of turning deadly.
Observers, activists and lawmakers have said that the shooting should be used as a wake up call for Yudhoyono and Hendarman Supandji, the new land agency chief, to immediately review all cases having the potential to turn into a deadly violence and to find a solution.
Ifdal Kasim, chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham), has demanded that Yudhoyono form a special team to handle each land dispute across the country.
“The team should comprise representatives of all the relevant offices and have the authority to directly deal with the problems and overcome barriers in the central and local bureaucracies,” he said. “The land agency by itself will not be able to solve all of the problems.”
Yudhoyono said earlier that this year alone his office had received reports of 8,305 land disputes. He said that from that number, 2,002 of the cases, including the one in Limbang Jaya, were considered to have the greatest possibility of escalating into violence.
“The 2,002 cases should be a priority and must be resolved immediately,” he told cabinet members last Wednesday. The president said that almost every week he received reports of land disputes and conflicts, and ordered the police and the land agency to work together to resolve the cases. He also denied his administration was neglecting the issue.
But on Friday afternoon, a boy was left dead and at least two other residents were injured as part of an ongoing land dispute. The incident took place close to the Cinta Manis sugar factory, which along with a sugarcane plantation, is at the center of the dispute.
An elementary school student, Angga Fadli bin Mawan, 12, was shot in the head and died immediately, according to the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).
Yarman bin Karuman, 47, a blacksmith, was injured in the arm and back. The third victim was Farida binti Juni, 48, a housewife, who was injured in the left arm.
Komnas Ham demanded that National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo evaluate the security arrangements for a region that is prone to natural resource conflicts.
“We demand that he withdraw Mobile Brigade members, stop all repressive methods and use dialogue to find a solution,” Ifdal said.
He said that the shooting was only one example of violence by police officers and military personnel, who frequently moonlight as security guards.
In late December, three civilians were killed in a clash with security forces during a protest over gold prospecting in West Nusa Tenggara’s Bima district.
Earlier that month, farmers from Mesuji district in Lampung presented a video to legislators in Jakarta that they claimed showed security forces murdering residents in order to evict them.
“Police officers and soldiers have no negotiation skills. They should send civilians to talk, and stop using guns to solve these conflicts,” said Gunawan, chairman of the Indonesian Human Rights Committee for Social Justice (IHCS).
He said the government had failed to realize that all the disputes were a reaction by local residents to the policies of former President Suharto, who forcefully took their land without compensation in the name of economic development.
“That’s why they feel that the land still belongs to them,” Gunawan said. “To solve the cases fairly, the government must also consider people’s right to the land, not just blame them for claiming the rights.”
He said the conflicts could be prevented if officials from local administrations, the land agency and councilors talked and sought a win-win solution.
“I believe the disputes could be solved peacefully if the authorities were not deaf and wanted to listen,” Gunawan said.
Ifdal said that one solution would be to allow villagers to continue using disputed land while the companies could still maintain ownership rights.
Gunawan said that after more than eight years, Yudhoyono was still unable to live up to one of his earliest promises, to solve land disputes across the archipelago.