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Indonesia to investigate beheadings allegedly conducted by palm oil security forces

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered an investigation into a grisly beheading of two men alleged by security forces hired to defend an oil palm plantation, reports The Jakarta Post.

Videotapes of the beheading of two farmers were shown to a human rights commission in parliament this week. The incident was said to have occurred earlier this year in Mesuji regency, near the border of Lampung and South Sumatra provinces, in the midst of an ongoing land dispute between PT Silva Inhutani Lampung, a company that owns rubber and oil palm plantations, and a local community. Violence also occurred between villagers and PT Sumber Wangi Alam, another palm oil producer.

The Jakarta Post described the videos:

Bob Hasan, a lawyer for the Mesuji community, said that the beheading was intended to intimidate other villagers.

“They intentionally put the heads in an open space to terrorize local farmers,” Hasan was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post.

Retired Major General Saurip Kadi, a member of an advocacy team for the community, said at least 32 villagers had been killed in the conflict since 2008.

The circumstances surrounding the violence remain “murky”, but the Associated Press reports that the conflict arose from expansion of plantations in Mesuji, which drove thousands of people from their homes and the lands they traditionally used, according to Ifdhal Kasim, the director of the National Commission on Human Rights.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Friday he had sent officials from the Ministry of Security and the national police to investigate the killings.

Land conflict between plantation companies and local communities is rife in Indonesia. Disputes often arise from the government’s failure to recognize claims to lands traditionally used by villagers. The government may grant these lands to companies for pulp and paper, timber, and oil palm plantations, pitting these firms, and the security forces they hire, against local people.

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