Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Riau villagers end Caltex blockade peacefully

Haidir Anwar Tanjung, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru, Riau

Around 400 villagers ended on Friday a five-day blockade of an oil field in Riau province belonging to U.S. company PT Caltex Pacific Indonesia after local police interceded in the dispute.

The protest started on Monday with the villagers demanding road improvements in Pinang, close to the site of Caltex's oil field in Rokan Hilir regency.

"The blockade by local residents was to put pressure on Caltex to improve the Pinang road. But we don't accept their method," spokesman of the company Hanafi Kadir told The Jakarta Post in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru.

However, he said the protesters removed the blockade on the Pinang field on Friday after police moved to disperse them by arranging negotiations between their community leaders and the company.

Rokan Hilir Police chief Comr. Erwan was quoted as telling the protesting villagers that Caltex would not be willing to negotiate with them if the company remained under pressure.

Hanafi said Caltex would consider the demand from the villagers after its operations in the Pinang field had returned to normal.

The company's 24 oil wells there resumed operations later on Friday after the protest ended, he added.

During the protest, residents from Kubu village had ordered workers at the oil field to stop work and abandon the area.

The protesters accused Caltex of failing to make good on its promise to rebuild the 40-kilometer road, which is an important transportation route for locals.

The road linking Simpang Kubu and Banko had seriously been damaged due to floods. The damage was also blamed on large trucks, which regularly pass the road to transport palm oil and other plantation products.

Caltex said it had actually started road improvements in Pinang, but later stopped the project after it faced certain problems, including the alleged blackmailing of workers by local thugs.

Hanafi also said that some spare parts of heavy equipment owned by Caltex's partner were stolen by local villagers during the road improvement project.

"If the spare parts are not returned, how can we resume the project?" he added.

He claimed his company had improved the overall infrastructure in Riau by building roads, schools and a sports stadium, as well as providing other assistance to locals.

However, he said there were indications that these contributions were often misused for the personal gain of certain people or groups.

The spokesman said the five-day blockade caused Caltex, a unit of U.S.-based Chevron Texaco Corp., to lose around 7,200 barrels of crude oil production.

The company is the country's largest crude oil producer, with an average production of around 630,000 barrels per day.

Similar blockades had taken place frequently at Caltex's oil fields, disrupting their production in Riau. Protesters have complained about the few benefits they gained from the extraction of natural resources in their area.

Although new regional autonomy laws were implemented in 2000, granting local governments greater control over revenues from natural resources, critics say much of this money is lost to corruption, leaving little to improve the welfare of villagers throughout the nation.