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Senin, Juli 02, 2012

Farmers protest against ‘criminalization’ of colleagues

Jakarta Post,13 Juni 2012

Thousands of farmers from four districts in Ogan Ilir regency, South Sumatra, staged a rally in front of local police headquarters on Wednesday, protesting against what they called the “criminalization” of farmers struggling for their rights.

The protesters, who are currently in conflict with state-owned PTPN VII Unit Cinta Manis, demanded that no farmers should be summoned as witnesses or named as suspects by the police.

“There is an agreement between the farmers and PTPN VII to settle the problem together. The farmers are given the right to mark their land while the sugar company is allowed to resume operations,” the supervisor for the farmers, Anwar Sadat, said on Wednesday.

The Ogan Ilir Police on Monday named 14 of the farmers suspects following recent land marking and the forcible stopping of the Cinta Manis sugar company operations by locals.

The naming of farmers as suspects in the case, according to Anwar, was a form of intimidation. He said the police should have arrested officials from the company because it was the company that had been using the land for its business without a license as stipulated in the law.

“We demand the police be fair and professional,” said Anwar, who is also director of the South Sumatra Forum for the Environment.

He added that the police had no reason to name the farmers suspects because the marking of the disputed land was done in accordance with a recommendation made at a meeting held at the local legislative council on June 7, which was also attended by the Ogan Ilir Police chief, company lawyers and local administration officials.

He also suggested the police should instead urge the Ogan Ilir and South Sumatra administrations to settle the dispute as soon as possible by returning people’s land that had been taken from them in 1982.

Separately, Ogan Ilir Police chief, Adj. Sr. Comr. Deni Darmapala, said the naming of the 14 farmers as suspects was based on evidence. The police, he said, had discovered a number of farmers who marked the disputed land had no proof of ownership.

Deni also said that according to the agreement made at the legislative council, residents were only allowed to mark and secure the region but not mark the land (as in a mark of ownership).

“However, in the event, they marked the land. Some even began to cultivate the land, meaning that they assumed control [of the land],” he said.

He added that in the meeting, it had been agreed that neither side would violate the law. “Marking and cultivating land that is not necessarily theirs is violating the law,” Deni said.

Despite being named suspects, following questioning as witnesses in the case, the 14 farmers have so far not been detained.

“We based our decision on documents at the PTPN, including the business license [HGU] and certificates of ownership,” Deni said.

A few weeks earlier, thousands of Sribandung residents occupied the PTPN’s sugarcane plantation and demanded the company surrender the three hectares of land they claimed as belonging to them.

They also blocked the access road to the company’s sugar factory, thus stopping operations at the factory. Later, residents of 15 other subdistricts from the three districts of Tanjung Batu, Tanjung Laut and Payaraman joined the rally.

Responding to the rally, thousands of the sugar factory’s employees conducted their own protest at the Ogan Ilir Legislative Council, demanding that the supremacy of law be upheld. They also demanded that the local administration and police protect the state’s assets.

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