Fri, 21 Mar 2003

Porsea students stage strike to protest pulp mill

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

Thousands of students from 21 elementary and high schools in Porsea, North Sumatra, have been refusing to go to school for two days to protest against the reopening of a pulp mill belonging to PT Toba Lestari Pulp (TPL) in the district.

Anto, a student of a state-run senior high school in Pardinggaran, Toba-Samosir, confirmed on Thursday that the students had stopped their studies for the time being to protest the reopening of the mill.

"And according to the consensus between the students' parents and the schools, the strike will continue until the government gives an official response to our demands," he told The Jakarta Post by telephone.

Anto said that everything was quiet in the neighboring towns of Porsea, Lumban Julu and Balige following the students' decision to stay away from school for the last two days.

Separately, the provincial police and administration regretted the students' strike.

The deputy chief of the local education office, Ardjoni Munir, accused parents in the regency of violating the education and children's rights laws, saying parents should not make use of their children to fight for their own political interests.

"We have reported the case to the governor for action to be taken. It is a serious problem because parents are stopping their children from going to school just to pressure the government to close down the pulp mill," he said.

Sr. Comr. Amrin Karim, spokesman for the North Sumatra Provincial Police, said the police would look into the student strike.

"We will questions all headmasters and students as to why they have launched the strike, and parents who are found to be stopping their children from going to school will be dealt with by the courts," he said.

TPL, formerly known as PT Inti Indorayon Utama (PT IIU), resumed operations at a less-then-full capacity of 200 tons per day a couple of weeks ago. It had previously been forced to suspend operations in 1999 following widespread local protests.

The company, a unit of the Radja Garuda Mas (RGM) Group, has been blamed for environmental degradation in the province, including decreasing water levels in Lake Toba, river and air pollution in the vicinity of the factory, and the uncontrolled felling of forests in the province.

The government allowed the company to resume operations after it vowed to comply with environmental regulations and undertake a community development scheme to better the lot of people living around the mill.

So far, 16 people, including two church ministers, are facing charges in the Balige District Court for ransacking the Porsea district chief's offices during a demonstration to protest against the mill's reopening last November.