Mon, 15 Dec 2003

Police arrest farmers in land dispute: Walhi

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) slammed on Sunday a series of police arrests of farmers in Muna regency in Southeast Sulawesi in connection with an unsettled land dispute.

The latest arrests made by the local police involved three residents of Kontu district in Muna on Saturday for allegedly cutting trees in a forest claimed by the local government as its property.

Walhi Southeast Sulawesi official Laode Ota said the arrests were carried out without warrants.

He added that before the incident, the police had forcibly detained five Kontu people in November.

One person suffered from breathing difficulties after he was hit by the police in the chest and back while being arrested.

Thus, since 2001 a total of 12 people have been detained by the police with some of them being brought to trial and others released.

Another 10 farmers were also questioned by the police last month.

The problem emerged as the local government claimed to own the forest, which produces high quality logs, but Kontu people claim the forest had been their ancestral land which they had been cultivating for years, according to Walhi.

As the local government planned to rehabilitate the forest, officials ordered Kontu people to abandon it, Walhi added.

"We want the local police to stop detaining Kontu people and resolve the problem without violence," said Ridha Saleh, the deputy director of Walhi.

According to him, the government should talk to the Kontu people about its plan instead of evicting them.

Ridha also called on the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to conduct an investigation to prevent the local police from arresting more people and perpetrating further violence.

"It is sad that Human Rights Day, which falls on Dec. 10, has not had an impact in Indonesia," he said.

To mark Human Rights Day, 96 non-governmental organizations lashed out at the country's administrations for frequently ignoring people's social and economic rights, as had happened during the many evictions that had been taking place recently.

Muna Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Alimudin admitted that his personnel had detained three Kontu people.

"We arrested them for cutting down trees in the forest belonging to the state," he told the Jakarta Post.

He said the police charged the people with theft and would submit the case to the local prosecutor's office.

According to Alimudin, if the local people continued to cut trees in the forest, the forest would soon disappear, along with its water resources.