Thu, 24 Jul 2003

Activists condemn police shooting of protesting farmers

Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post, Makassar, South Sulawesi

Dozens of non-governmental organization activists went to Governor Amin Syam's office and the provincial legislature on Wednesday to condemn the police shooting of protesting farmers in the remote town of Bulukumba, which left one person dead on Monday.

The activists from the Front of Poor People's Struggle (FPRM) and the Bulukumba Student Family Association (KKB) demanded an investigation into the shootings.

"We want the police to set up a fact-finding team to probe the possible violation of standard operating procedures by the officers, which led to the loss of life," FPRM chairman Irham Ariandi said.

The Makassar Legal Aid Institute, the Solidarity of NGOs, the Federation of Indonesian Farmers and the Association of People Against Corruption also issued a joint statement to denounce the fatal shooting, and demanded action be taken against the officers.

The activists also urged the police to release 15 people arrested following the incident.

A farmer, identified as Barra bin Badula, was killed and three others suffered gunshot wounds when 200 police officers were deployed to disperse about 1,000 villagers. The villagers ran amok while protesting what they said was the illegal occupation of their land in Bonto Mangiring subdistrict by rubber plantation company PT London Sumatra.

The villagers cut down rubber trees and attacked the company's housing complex during the incident, which was the first to target the company since it began operating in the area in 1967. Bulukumba is located 210 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Makassar.

Provincial police chief Insp. Gen. Jusuf Manggarabarani dismissed on Wednesday demands that officers who opened fire on the crowd be punished.

He said the police acted in self-defense as many of the villagers were carrying sharp weapons during the incident.

"We tried to persuaded them to disperse, but they ran after our personnel brandishing sharp weapons," Jusuf said. He added that Barra was shot as he attempted to throw a Molotov cocktail at officers.

Witnesses said Barra died of gunshot wounds to the head. They also said the police opened fire as the protesters gathered in a field near the company's housing complex.

Bulukumba Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Tigor H. Situmorang said 15 people had been arrested and charged with taking part in the riot. Police are searching for another 13 people, including NGO activists, believed to have masterminded the incident.

Some of the arrested villagers said they began to riot after being urged on by an NGO activist identified as Mappasomba, Tigor said.

"Mappasomba persuaded the farmers to claim the land and said each of the farmers deserved one hectare," the officer said.

Bonto Mangiring subdistrict was quiet on Tuesday as officers continued to search for rioters.

PT Lonsum Palangisang Estate manager Muhammad Ali Simatupang said the company had been granted a land use permit in 1918 and had extended its plantation area to 5,784 hectares over the years.

He said the company and the farmers had been involved in a legal dispute, but the dispute was resolved in 1997 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the farmers. The court ordered the company to return 200 hectares to the plaintiffs.

"We fulfilled the order. We even gave them 600 hectares," Ali said.