Five farmers in North Sumatra suffered gunshot wounds on Thursday in the latest clash in a land dispute involving farmers, a palm oil company and police.
North Sumatra Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Raden Heru Prakoso said the clash started from “an ambush” by residents of Batang Kumuh village, which lies on the border with Riau province.
“At the time, about 90 employees of MAI [Mazuma Agro Indonesia] were working on the land with two units of heavy machinery when as many as 200 villagers showed up and demanded the work stop,” Heru said.
The villagers, he said, were armed with sharp weapons and began attacking the Mobile Brigade (Brimob) officers guarding the plantation.
“One of the officers was stabbed, so the others started shooting in order to immobilize them,” Heru added.
Five farmers were taken to Pasir Pangaraian Hospital in Riau with gunshot wounds.
“None of the injuries are serious,” Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Syarif Pandiangan said.
Heru added that six villagers, two company employees and four Brimob officers were injured.
The Brimob officers were from South Tapanuli, North Sumatra. According to Heru, the company’s operations were located in a remote area, six hours from the South Tapanuli capital of Sipirok.
“Because of the distance, they requested Brimob’s help with security,” Heru said.
According to the Riau Palm Oil Farmers Union (SPKS), farmers at Batang Kumuh have been protesting against MAI since 1998. The farmers claim the land is part of Riau, but the company was given a permit by the North Sumatra government.
“The company doesn’t have a sufficient permit. The people brought the case to court and won at the district level up to the High Court,” said Mansuetus Darto, director of the SPKS.
The company filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, but even without a final ruling it already started work on the disputed land.
“These last few weeks the company deployed armed security officers including Brimob and police to guard four units of heavy machinery in the area,” he said.
Mansuetus also alleged that the company had been intimidating the locals.
Rights organizations condemned the shootings. “Our police never learn, reflect or critique themselves over their contribution to violence against Indonesian people,” said Wahyu Wagiman from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam).
Thursday’s incident came in the wake of similar cases of police violence toward civilians in Mesuji in Lampung and Bima in West Nusa Tenggara.
“In those events, the steps and actions taken by police officers were rowdy, unpredictable and bordering on the unethical and immoral,” Wahyu said.