Security force personnel tend to side with businesses in agrarian conflicts TNI denies active military personnel working as security guards
The involvement of police and military personnel in protecting plantations has come under scrutiny as their role may have become a stumbling block in efforts to curb forest fires.
Not only have security force personnel often been reported to side with companies in land disputes against residents, but the police have also recently terminated investigations into last year’s fires in Riau.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to evaluate the National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) conduct in relation to their support for private businesses, especially those that have violated environmental regulations.
“Corporations always use the state apparatus to ease their business, protect their concessions and evict people. We see this everywhere and we believe the situation is getting worse,” Walhi chairwoman Nur “Yaya” Hidayati told The Jakarta Post.
According to her, corporations are becoming more aggressive in resisting law enforcement and investigations into alleged illegal practices because they are backed up by the police and the military.
“We can see corporate power getting stronger. For instance, there have already been two cases of investigators from the Environment and Forestry Ministry being blocked by companies [in the course of investigations],” Yaya said.
The first case happened last year, when members of Walhi’s South Sumatra branch along with ministry staff investigated a dispute between local rubber planters and a timber plantation at Bumi Makmur village in Musirawas Regency.
As they reached the location, they saw company staff accompanied by police officers evicting people from their rubber plantations, said Walhi member Hadi Jatmiko.
When the team of investigators asked for the eviction to be halted and invited the company for discussions, company staff and the police abused the team, describing them as agents provocateurs and arrested the four members of the team, who were later beaten, according to Hadi.
Musirawas Police chief Sr. Comr. Nurhadi Handayani admitted that police had secured the location, by request of the plantation company, but denied anyone was beaten.
According to a report from the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), the police and the military have long been involved in agrarian conflicts, often siding with businesses. In 2015, there were 35 cases of companies committing violence, 21 cases involving the police, 16 involving the military, 10 involving other government institutions, eight cases in which gangs were involved and three cases in which local communities were responsible.
In 2014, police were responsible for most violent agrarian conflicts with 34 cases, followed by local communities with 19, companies with 12, six cases involving gangs and military involvement in five cases.
Nur described this data as ironic given that the police and the military are supposed to protect and defend the people.
TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman said the military did not allow active military personnel to work for private companies as the monitoring or protection of plantations was not the duty of the military. “There are many who work for palm oil companies as well as oil and gas companies. But they’re no longer active in the military. They resigned from the military because maybe they no longer saw a future in the career,” he told the Post.
The forestry ministry’s law enforcement director-general, Rasio Ridho Sani, also denied the involvement of police officers or TNI officials in backing up palm oil companies involved in illegally clearing land. “In the case involving PT APSL [Andika Permata Sawit Lestari], the police worked really well. When we were held hostage, the police protected us and helped us to get away from the area,” he said.
Rasio was referring to a hostage incident last week, when seven ministry officials were held hostage and threatened with death by a group of people while investigating a forest fire in Riau. (win)