Pekanbaru, Riau. Arson could be behind the razing on Sunday morning of a camp set up by Greenpeace in the middle of the Kampar peninsula to help protect against deforestation, the camp’s caretaker said.
“The camp burned down early in the morning [on Sunday]. We could see the fire and smoke from across the river,” said Syamsudin, a 67-year-old resident of Teluk Meranti village who serves as the caretaker of the camp.
“I and other villagers went to that camp and tried to put out the fire but without success. Instead it just kept getting bigger and uncontrollable, causing main building and musholla to completely burn down,” he said, adding that the fire lasted for around one hour.
The 20- by 50-meter Climate Defenders Camp was established in October in Teluk Meranti village, Pelalawan district on the Kampar peninsula, which environmental groups say is threatened by massive exploitation of peat bogs.
In November, Greenpeace handed over the camp, made with coconut trees and dried leaves, to local people to manage.
Syamsudin said he had not seen anything suspicious when he left the camp on Saturday night.
“I usually sleep in the camp but last night I had to tend to a sick family member. I remember that I left the camp in a clean and neat condition. Even the Greenpeace banner in front of the camp’s entrance was placed nicely,” he said.
“However, when the camp was on fire I noticed that the camp had already been torn apart. The Greenpeace banner had already been ripped all over.”
He said he suspected arson behind the fire. “There are people, villagers, who favor the companies, who have been staking out the camp over the past few days,” he said.
The camp served as a base for protests against deforestation in the district by forestry companies that activists say flout national conservation laws.
Demonstrators have specifically targeted Asia Pulp and Paper, a Sinar Mas subsidiary that Greenpeace has accused of being responsible for clearing away an immense amount of forest land over the last three decades, and Singapore-based Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL), the world’s largest pulp and paper producer, which has been granted a huge concession covering most of Kampar’s 400,000 hectares.
Greenpeace staged two controversial protests in the area, one of which involved activists chaining themselves to excavators owned by APRIL, which led to the deportation of their foreign members and the arrest of Indonesian activists.
Zulfahmi, forest campaigner for Greenpeace South East Asia, said the group would leave the investigation into the fire in the hands of the police and urged legal action if the investigation revealed that the camp was deliberately burned.
“If there is evidence that it had been set on purpose, we want the police to investigate that,” Zulfahmi said.
However, Pelalawan police chief Ari Rahman Nafarin said his office had not received any complaints about the fire.
“I haven’t heard about it. There was no report from Greenpeace,” Ari said.
“If there’s any official complaint then we will go through with an investigation. At the moment, we’ll still need to check the site that was reportedly burned,” he said.