Wayang puppet theatre is a traditional form of entertainment and art in Indonesia. The use of puppets and light create shadows and silhouettes against a background. Actors and music create the sound track for these shadows that perform plays. The action is not with the puppets themselves, but rather with the shadows created. It’s not too far from how life feels sometimes in Indonesia.
On the island of Pulau Pedang, off the eastern coast of the larger island, Sumatra, a land conflict boils. On a recently aired Australian Broadcasting Corporation episode of Foreign Correspondent the story is told of deforestation, economic growth, corruption and violent land disputes. It is a story that encapsulates so many of the challenges faced by people around the globe.
The Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) is a paper pulp producer with operations throughout Southeast Asia. In Indonesia APRIL operate through their local subsidiary, RAPP. In the past couple of years APRIL have expanded operations in Indonesia, where they cut rainforest and replace it with plantation trees, which are allowed to grow for a few years, and are then harvested to make paper. While many in the region benefit from the company building roads and infrastructure, many others appear to have not benefited and have had their land taken away.
The essentials of the conflict are described by a coalition of local NGO’s. While English is not their first language I reproduce their claim here, they write:
Most of Concession area of PT. RAPP in Pulau Padang is overlapped with lands which owned by local community, for instant for rubber plantation, sago plantation, thus farming area and ex farming area and plantation. Because PT. RAPP forces to operate without consider the community reaction and or objection, causing massive rejection by demonstration which often happens until took place in Jakarta.
The NGO coalition goes on to explain that in late May 2011 members of the Riau Farmers Union tried to prevent heavy machinery from clearing forest. During the day of May 30 local citizens halted the operation of heavy machinery. Later that night two pieces of heavy machinery were set ablaze by unknown assailants. After several weeks, on July 13 more heavy equipment was burned. Also that night the operator of the burned vehicle was tortured, shot and burned.
It is suggested in the Foreign Correspondent report unnamed elites have conspired with local government officials to engineer the seizure of land and then granting RAPP access to that land. The report goes on to detail the story of one lone policeman who takes the complaints of villagers seriously and to act against land seizure, only to be suddenly transferred out of the area. Of course, after his transfer the land grab continues. Happily, in this story, the central government in Jakarta gets wind of the story and intervenes, taking further action against the company.
Still protests against the wood pulping company continue in Pulau Pedang. The NGO, Scale Up, has stepped into the fray. They have sponsored a number of mediation training programs in the region. For these to succeed, however, they need to operate in an environment free from corruption and interference. Social trust is central to effective peace work. I couldn’t help but think that the police officer who sought to impede the seizure of land was a peace worker just as much as the NGO sponsoring mediation training.