Tempers Flare as Aceh Villagers’ Arun Gas Plant Blockade Enters Third Week

July 14
Banda Aceh. A blockade of the giant Arun liquefied natural gas plant in northern Aceh by more than 500 villagers demanding the company honor 36-year-old promises entered its third week on Tuesday with no end in sight.

The blockade flared up on Monday when protesters scuffled with the police while trying to stop plant workers leaving by the main gate.

The protesters are from four villages in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, whose land was taken over by Arun LNG in 1974.

The four villages are West Lancang, East Lancang, East Rancong and West Rancong.

The protesters have blocked the main entrance to the plant.

Ahmad Refki, the coordinator of the protesters gathered under the Evicted People’s Alliance, said his group would continue the peaceful protest until their demands were met by the government and state oil and gas company Pertamina.

“The residents demand resettlement and an agriculture area to make a living, as promised by the government when Arun was established in 1974,” Ahmad said in a phone interview.

He said the government and Pertamina had promised all residents affected by the oil and gas mega project that they would be resettled and given land to farm.

The promise was contained in a letter from then Aceh Governor Muzakkir Walad.

Residents of other villages surrounding the plant have already been relocated, but not those from the four villages.

“The 452 heads of families from these four villages have only been compensated for their land,” Ahmad said.

Some of these people have since left, while other have stayed and have had to rent houses.

The protesters have put up a tent at the plant entrance.

The blockade has not affected the company’s operations, but workers have been forced to look for other ways to get in and out of the plant.

“The demonstration is peaceful,” Ahmad said. “We will continue this blockade until our demands are fulfilled by the government and there is a written agreement that residents can hold on to.”

He added that the armed conflict in Aceh between the military and the separatist Free Aceh Movement, and the resulting security presence in the area, had prevented residents from claiming their rights earlier.

He denied claims made by a witness that the cars of several Arun staff had been vandalized during Monday’s scuffles, saying the cars had been only slightly scratched or dinged.

The witness, who declined to be named, said police had fired warning shots into the air to disband the protesters but there were no serious injuries.

Ahmad said that to avoid further clashes, the protesters had stayed inside their tent on Tuesday because the police were on guard around the site.

The Arun gas field is one of the country’s largest and for decades has been considered a vital project requiring tight security.

The plant was a target of guerilla attacks during the three decades of separatist conflict, and the military has always had a strong presence in the area.

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