Indigenous People in West Papua Fight Biofuel Expansion

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The Indonesian government appears to be intent on a massive expansion in oil palm plantations as a source of bio-fuel. This will involve the destruction of millions of hectares of rainforest and with it the indigenous populations who have lived in and managed these forests for thousands of years.

from the Institute for Papuan Advocacy & Human Rights
August 24, 2007

Reports of military violence and an attack by traditional landowners on the personnel and property of Korean and Indonesian owned logging and oil palm plantation project have come from sources in the southern region of West Papua.“One non-Papuan employee of Korindo the Korean and Indonesian owned logging and oil palm company, is been reported killed and four Korindo company trucks burnt after indigenous people from the Muyu tribe and company employees clashed near the remote town of Asiki, 250 kilometers north-west of Australia’s Torres Strait this week.”The Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights (IPAHR) has also received reports from local people that at least one local indigenous Papuans has been killed by the Indonesian military in four days ago (20 August 2007).

The military have reportedly accused the OPM/TPN guerrillas of the attacks. It appears that the military are using the pretext of the OPM/TPN to act against local people in what is a land rights and industrial resource development issue.

IPAHR understands that Human Rights workers did met with Bernard Mawen regional commander of the OPM/TPN earlier this year. Bernard Mawen, who is also from the Muyu tribal group, is supportive of non violent struggle to promote Human Rights and Self Determination in West Papua. The OPM/TPN under command of Bernard Mawen have not engaged in military action for many years.

In a previous report a detachment of Kostrad, the elite force of Indonesian Special Military Reserve, which is stationed at Asiki was reported to have carried out the brutal torture of a local man Yakabus Gimbanop on about 29/07/07. It was reported that Gimbanop was dying in hospital at Tanah Merah from his injuries after being bound and dropped to Police. Subsequent reports from local people indicate that Yakobus Gimbanop has disappeared without trace from the hospital. Human Rights workers believe he was taken by the military.

“The recent violence reported at the Korindo operation appears to be as a result of longstanding dispute over land rights between Korindo and local indigenous traditional landowners, not just the Muyu but also the Auyu, Mandobo, and Marind from other parts of southern West Papua who are also effected by Korindo’s operations. In addition there has been a very long history of violence by Indonesian security forces in this region. At times the TNI (Indonesian military) and police work to protect Korindo’s interests and at other times they have launched brutal and indiscriminate military operations against the civilian population and small bands of West Papuan guerrilla fighters.”

“The recent incident attack on Korindo’s operations in Asiki by the members of the Muyu can also be seen within a context of increased military repression in West Papua which appears to be coordinated by the military command in West Papua. It would appear to serve the interests of the military to generate conflict with the local people. The military can justify the increase in repression which in turn stops any effective voice of local opposition to the Korindo timber and oil palm operations. ” said Matthew Jamieson of the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights.

“Ultimately the conflict over the expansion of oil palms is driven by international demand for bio-fuel. The Indonesian government appears to be intent on a massive expansion in oil palm plantations as a source of bio-fuel. This will involve the destruction of millions of hectares of rainforest and with it the indigenous populations who have lived in and managed these forests for thousands of years.”

Background on conflict at KorindoConflict over land rights has been growing in the Boven Digoel, Mappi, and Merauke areas of southern West Papua over several years. Local landowners from the Muyu, Auyu, Mandobo and Marind tribes have been engaged in long standing & largely non-violent action to either halt the operations of Korindo outright or stop the desecration of sacred sites and gain just compensation.This conflict over land use and resource extraction has centered around timber logging operations and the creation of Oil palm. The creation of oil palm plantations involves clear felling and burning the forest. This means destroying indigenous peoples’ livelihood, homes, ancestral graves and sacred sites in the process.

These rights and even the existence of indigenous traditional owners is not adequately recognised by the Indonesian constitution. Consequently there is little legal or political avenue for redress except by collective defiance.”

But this week the tactics of petitions, dialogue and roadblocks for local people gave way to political violence as mounting anger over what local indigenous Papuans regard as blatant disregard of their rights by Korindo has become violent.

The violence in the southern region of West Papua is driven by internal and external forces. Internally, conflict in the Boven Digoel, Mappi and Merauke areas is caused by an increase in military personnel as a result of the creation of new provinces, competition amongst political elites, and lack of recognition and protection of indigenous rights by the State. Externally, growing demand for bio-fuel from Europe and China is generating increasing interest from attention from Jakarta us this region for the industrial oil palm industry.

While holding out the promise of development, indigenous Papuan people in southern Papua have benefited little from Korindo’s timber concessions and oil palm plantations.

Accurate figures are hard to come by, but according to a report by the International Crisis Group in July 2007, less than 10% of Korindo’s workforce are indigenous Papuans, and all of those hold low paying menial labouring positions. Nor have indigenous people been the beneficiaries of any economic spin-offs.

Instead of economic prosperity Korindo’s operations have generated intense conflict over land rights and compensation claims and fuelled competition amongst local Papuan elites over the economic and political spoils of resource extraction. And when conflict does inevitably erupt, Korindo has a history of bringing in the Indonesian police and military to gain control, further exacerbating tensions.

Currently 5 million hectares of new oil palm plantations are planned for West Papua by 2012. This includes very large areas in the Boven Digoel, Mappi and Meruake areas of southern West Papua.

Without safeguarding indigenous peoples’ rights and genuine participation in the decisions that effect local communities, and reducing both in-migration and military expansion, conflict and violence will inevitably get worse.

Papua’s Governor, Barnabas Suebu, who had originally appeared to support the massive oil palm plantation expansion has been reported in recent International press as recommending a program for preservation of the rainforest in West Papua. This program would trade carbon credits from corporations and provide income for the local people and the State. It would be a policy that could also protect both the environmental and cultural heritage values of the area.

If the oil palm plantations continue to expand, hundreds of thousands of Indonesian migrants will be brought into to the area to work. One local human rights defender told IPAHR that for every one million hectares of oil palm plantations 300,000 new workers are needed. This influx of migrant labour will irreversibly alter the demographic balance in West Papua, reducing the indigenous people to a minority in their own land. In addition to a massive bio-diversity loss and the destruction of indigenous culture and livelihood, intense violent social conflict and violence can almost be guaranteed.

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