An acacia plantation that was burned in Riau by villagers seeking to establish an oil palm plantation. Photos by Rhett A. Butler.
Indonesian police are investigating the brutal killing of a villager in Jambi at the hands of security guards contracted by Wira Karya Sakti (WKS), a plantation company owned by forestry giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). APP quickly condemned the murder and said it is cooperating with the investigation.
The incident occurred last Friday after Indra Pelani, a 22 year-old from Lubuk Mandarsah village, and Nick Karim from Simpang Niam village attempted to pass through a checkpoint on a road through Wira Karya Sakti’s acacia plantation. Indra and Karim — a member of WALHI, a local environmental group — had intended to attend a rice harvest.
Instead, an argument between the villagers and guards manning the post turned violent, according to an account provided by WAHLI. Indra was apparently severely beaten and Nick fled, seeking help.
By the time Nick returned with roughly 30 villagers, Indra was missing and the security officer on duty denied knowing anything about the incident.
Police in Tebo district were alerted and conducted a search Friday evening. Indra’s body was discovered in a swamp roughly 400 meters from the road, according to a report from Tempo. Indra’s feet were bound with rope and his mouth stuffed with a t-shirt. His body showed signs of severe beating.
Tebo police say they are now seeking seven suspects in the killing, which comes after years of conflict between the company and local villagers over land claims.
Indra’s burial site. Photo: Walhi
Indra Pelani, 22, was killed on February 22, 2015 by security guards working at a post in a concession owned by WKS. Photo: Walhi
The incident is a set back for efforts to resolve land disputes in the area. For the past year, WAHLI has been working to facilitate a conflict resolution process between WKS and villagers as part of WKS’s parent company APP’s two-year-old zero deforestation policy, which includes both social and environmental provisions. That process has included mapping and delineating local land claims and small agricultural plots within areas granted as concessions to the company.
However that process apparently hasn’t yet been enough to rein in security contractors employed by WKS.
An APP acacia plantation in Sumatra.
Greenpeace, which has been working with APP to implement the policy, immediately condemned the killing and called for “full and unconditional cooperation” from APP in the investigation.
“APP must take immediate action to ensure that this is fully and fairly investigated by the authorities with full and unconditional cooperation from the company. APP must also launch a full investigation of security procedures and its contractors to ensure such incidents never happen again. We expect the company to be transparent in addressing this issue,” said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace’s Indonesia forest campaign. “Following a fair and comprehensive investigation, those directly and indirectly responsible for Indra’s death, including members of the security firm and APP, must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law if found to have been connected to this tragic death.”
“Given the gravity of this incident, the conflict resolution process must be prioritized on this case and across all APP operations in order to ensure justice is delivered. In the interim, Greenpeace will step back from other engagement with APP to focus on addressing the serious issues highlighted by this case.”
In a statement, APP condemned the killing and said it would assist the investigation and support the victim’s family.
“We condemn violence and we support Greenpeace’s decision to focus its efforts on this issue,” APP said in a statement. “We are committed to putting all of our resources into working with the community, Greenpeace, Walhi and the police to ensure that justice is done.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and the community at this difficult time. APP’s immediate priority will be to appropriately support the family, the community and to continue to assist with the police investigation.”
APP added that it has asked WKS to suspend everyone who may have been involved in the incident.
“Pending the outcome of that investigation APP has required PT Wirakarya Sakti to suspend all of the personnel alleged to be involved in the incident including security officers, the commander of the District Eight security team and the head of security at contractor PT MCP.”
Google Earth map of the location of the incident, which occurred near the edge of Bukit Tiga Puluh, a national park that has been beset by encroachment and deforestation for plantations.
Violent conflict between locals and private or state security forces are common in Indonesia, especially in and around industrial concessions. These conflicts sometimes result from the state’s failure to recognize community land claims, resulting in traditional lands being granted for industrial plantations, logging concessions, and mines. Adding to the problem is perpetrators of violence often escape prosecution.
Note: photos of Indra and Indra’s burial site were added to this post at 7 pm Pacific time on March 2, 2015.