Fidelis E. Satriastanti & Camelia Pasandaran
The Wilmar Group, one of Asia’s largest agribusiness companies, claims to lift people out of poverty and respect indigenous peoples’ land rights.
But protesters from the Anak Dalam Sungai Beruang tribe from Jambi in Sumatra demonstrating outside the state palace in Jakarta on Monday said a Wilmar Group subsidiary, Asiatic Persada, had forced them off their ancestral homelands.
Roni, the head of Sungai Beruang village in Muaro Jambi, said the villagers had come to Jakarta because local officials were ignoring their plight.
“We are here in Jakarta to seek an explanation from the government, because we haven’t heard anything from the district or provincial administrations,” he said.
“We want due legal process for the unlawful eviction that we have experienced. We will also visit the BPN [National Land Agency] to clarify just where the borders of our lands lie, because the current boundaries are a mess.”
Roni said tensions between the tribe and AP began on Aug. 10 when men claiming to be agents of the firm came into their village and began forcibly evicting them.
“We don’t know why they did that,” he said. “But some time before it happened, there were reports that outsiders had been camping on the periphery of the existing plantation and stealing the oil palm fruit. We explained to the company that none of us were involved in that, but they didn’t respond.”
He added that three hamlets in the village, housing a total of 82 families, were evicted.
“We’ve been living there since 1920, and the company only came in 1986. We were there first, yet our ancestors’ graves now fall within their concession,” Roni said, adding that the Anak Dalam Sungai Beruang’s entire 5,100 hectares of ancestral land had been given over to palm oil companies.
AP dismissed the protesters’ claims as baseless.
Syafei, a company spokesman, said the group rallying in Jakarta was laying claim to land to which it had no right.
“The company only [recognizes] the land of the Anak Dalam people who were genuinely there before AP received its land use certificate,” he said. “The ones demonstrating now are newcomers.”
He added that the Jambi administration was setting up a team to resolve the dispute, involving local officials as well as representatives from the company and the tribe.
Master Parulian Tumanggor, the Wilmar Group commissioner, denied that AP expropriated the tribe’s land, adding that the dispute had already been settled.