Tue, 05 Aug 2003

Komnas HAM sees possible rights abuses in Bulukumba

Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post, Makassar, South Sulawesi

There were indications of human rights abuses when police shot dead at least two persons and injured dozens of others in Bulukumba regency, South Sulawesi, to quell last month's violent protest at rubber plantation firm PT London Sumatra (Lonsum), a national human rights watchdog has said.

Police put the death toll from the July 21 unrest at two, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) put the figure at five.

"Our preliminary conclusion based on data from the field suggests that there are indications of human rights violations," Hasballah M. Saad, who chairs a team of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to investigate the Bulukumba incident, said on Sunday.

However, he said the three-member team could not yet determine whether the shooting was a serious human rights abuse, arguing the findings were still preliminary data that needed to be verified with other sources for accuracy.

Team members Hasballah, M.M. Billah and Yuwaldi concluded on Sunday their four-day investigation into the shooting incident.

The team will present its findings to other Komnas HAM members in a plenary meeting later this week.

Hasballah said he would suggest that the commission establish a judicial team to investigate the unrest further so as to cover all angles of the case.

"Our investigation is still preliminary in nature. We have collected as much data as possible from the field, but have not yet confirmed them with other sources, so the findings are not yet verified -- for which we need a judicial team," he told The Jakarta Post.

The incident occurred at Bonto Mangiring village in Bulukumba, some 210 kilometers from the provincial capital of Makassar, when police fired on more than 1,000 villagers whose protest against the occupation of their land by Lonsum had turned violent.

The two dead victims were identified as Barra bin Badula and Ansu bin Musa. At least four of the dozens wounded in the incident received medical treatment for bullet wounds.

Several other shooting victims fled to the jungle to escape possible arrest by police. Other victims who had returned home later were still haunted by fears of being rounded up by security forces.

Hasballah said his team could not determine the number of those still missing after the incident.

At least 20 villagers are under detention at Bulukumba Police station, and sources said that many of them bore signs of beatings.

The detainees include two NGO activists -- Andi Mappasomba and Andi Adi Mappasulle -- who have been charged with inciting the riot.

Police are still searching for several activists and villagers who fled after the violence.

Asked whether the police complied with prevailing procedures when they opened fire on the villagers, Hasballah said they needed to investigate further.

"We cannot establish whether the shooting violated procedures or not, because we have yet to meet the police officers involved in the shooting, some of whom we have already identified," he said, but confirmed that the team had already met with the Bulukumba Police chief and his deputy.

They had also met with South Sulawesi Police chief Insp. Gen. Jusuf Manggabarani and South Sulawesi Governor Amin Syam in Makassar before heading out to Bulukumba.

Lonsum has accused NGO activists of being behind the riot, during which people from Bonto Mangiring and neighboring villages rampaged through its plantation, cutting down rubber trees and attacking a housing complex.

The villagers, carrying saws, also took over an office belonging to Lonsum.

The protesters accused the company of forcefully evicting villagers from their traditional lands in Bonto Mangiring in 1967, and taking over the land.