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Leuser Park authorities still trying to move thousands of squatters

Small-scale forest clearing in Mount Leuser National Park. Photo: Rhett A. Butler
Small-scale forest clearing in Mount Leuser National Park. Photo: Rhett A. Butler

The Indonesian government will take another stab at relocating thousands of squatters from Mount Leuser National Park, most of whom were dispaced by the decades-long insurgency in Aceh province and whose presence has fueled deforestation in the protected area.

Previous attempts to move the squatters have often failed when the people refuse to leave their homes. The park is now home to more than 5,000 illegal residents.

This time, the government has set aside 1,400 hectares of land in West Sumatra’s Solok regency. The squatters are now concentrated in North Sumatra’s Langkat regency.

“They have been encroaching on the national park since 1998 and have cleared almost 20,000 hectares of the protected forests, part of which they turned into residences and the rest into oil palm farms,” park chief Andi Basrul told The Jakarta Post.

In 2013, the authorities managed to relocate 21 squatter families to South Sumatra.

Mount Leuser isn’t the country’s only national park with squatter problems. Lampung province’s Bukit Barisan National Park is home to more than 100,000 illegal residents who have lived their for decades.

Many of them came in 1977, when a peak in coffee prices “triggered spontaneous mass migration to the mountainous areas of southern Sumatra and led to the development of a major deforestation front on the eastern fringe” of Bukit Barisan, according to a 2012 paper.




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