12 August 2013


[Jakarta, 13 August 2013] Government forces planning the imminent eviction of thousands of squatters from a plantation in Sumatra must avoid excessive force and ensure that no one with a legitimate claim is removed.

The warning comes in Mesuji: Anatomy of an Indonesian Land Conflict, the first report issued by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). The report tracks a dispute over a protected forest area-turned-industrial tree plantation known as Register 45 in Lampung that could be headed for a showdown in the coming days.  The Mesuji case is important because:

  • it has a history of violence and could explode if the eviction is poorly handled;
  • it shows the complexity of land conflicts where almost every actor involved has been both perpetrator and victim of a perceived injustice;
  • it shows how the conflict changes as local politicians begin seeing new arrivals not as squatters but as potential votes;
  • it shows how fraught the concept of indigeneity can be, when outside interests help create new customary (adat) councils in order to stake claims to land.
  • It underscores the urgency of finding better mechanisms to measure and map land and consult with communities before and not after major agribusiness concessions are granted.

The battle over Register 45 has been simmering for years between the company that operates the plantation and at least five different groups of claimants, as well as among the claimants themselves. Over the last two years, however, a new wave of settlers, organized by groups with different political and economic interests, has flooded onto the land in unprecedented numbers.  Frequently duped into buying land they thought they owned, they also had backers who helped bring in heavy equipment to clear the company’s trees, burn off the vegetation, build roads and houses—and plant cassava as far as the eye can see. Cassava, traditionally the food staple of those too poor to buy rice, has become a key starch for bio-fuels and therefore a valuable commodity. 

In late July 2013, over 400 troops moved in to Register 45 tell the settlers to leave or face forcible eviction after the Idul Fitri holidays. The newcomers are not just cutting down trees and burning land—all in clear view of the local police—but they are also complicating the efforts of a much smaller group of farmers to get recognition for historical claims to parts of Register 45. 

“Eviction of the recent arrivals will remove one group of spurious claimants, but it will still leave unresolved issues between the local community and the company that need to be addressed,” says Sidney Jones, IPAC director.  “The government also needs to probe how, why and by whom the influx of settlers was organized – and who reaped the benefit of all those land sales.” 

The new report also urges the government to implement the recommendations of a 2012 fact-finding report on Mesuji.


Land and Resource Disputes

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