Army in Retreat After C. Java Protest

The Army said on Tuesday that it was committed to the peaceful settlement of a land dispute in Central Java, a day after thousands of farmers protested the use of farmland in Urutsewu district as a live-fire training ground.

“We will avoid any clashes with local villagers. Training must continue but we will relocate to another area,” Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Wiryantoro said.

On Monday, thousands of protesters, many of them farmers from the surrounding Kebumen district, blocked access to the land, forcing the Army to cancel its first scheduled training session there. The Army said it had planned on carrying out weaponry and ballistics training.

Imam Zuhdi, a protest coordinator, said villagers were prepared to physically stop the Army from using the disputed land.

“If the military keeps insisting on doing their training here, then we will do all we can do to prevent them,” he said.

Wiryantoro stressed that the Army had a legal right to use the land. “It was already included in our plans years ago to use the site as a place for training soldiers and weaponry tests,” he said.

However, Imam, a member of the Forum for South Kebumen Farmers (FPPKS), accused the Army of conspiracy. He alleged that the Army had colluded with unnamed private investors to mine the farmland for iron ore.

“For us, the Army’s plan is a conspiracy among the military, businessmen and local political powerholders to exploit iron ore for private interests,” he said.

He added that a private company had already requested that the government approve an environmental impact analysis report for the land, which is needed before a mining permit can be granted.

“We reject the plan because it would cause environmental damage,” Imam said. “Besides, it would cost us our livelihoods since most of us are farmers here.”

Wiryantoro denied the allegations. “We can’t comment on the iron ore issue, because the military has nothing to do with business as stipulated by the law.”

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