By Harald Eraker
On Wednesday 15 December, people from six different villages in the South Sumatra province broke through the brick wall of the warehouse where piles of acacia wood from PT Tanjung Enim Lestari's (PT Tel) plantations were stored. They poured petrol onto the wood and set fire to it.
This was reported by the Indonesian newspaper Sriwijaya Post on 18 December last year. The result of the riot against the cellulose giant, which has encountered strong protests from the local population for many years, was that wood worth 140 billion rupiah (152 million kroner per 20 January 2000) was destroyed in the fire.
Several days later, firemen still did not have the fire under control. Five cars, worth 7 billion rupiah (7.6 million kroner) each, were also destroyed. According to the company's security department, the rioters also damaged two other cars, office equipment (for example computers), and an office building.
- We do not know how damaged the office buildings are because they are still sealed, says Jahrudin from PT Tel's security department to Sriwijaya Post.
"Security guards found four molotov cocktails in the residential area of the workers of PT Tanjung Enim Lestari (PT Tel). Until Friday (17 December) activity on the factory premises was completely paralysed as a result of the burning of hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of acacia wood belonging to the cellulose factory last Wednesday."
From a news article in the Indonesian newspaper Sriwijaya Post, 18 December 1999
860 workers were dismissed immediately because of the fire, which completely paralysed the cellulose factory in the Muaraenim district in southern Sumatra. The reason for the violent riot is thought to be that the villagers protest against the fact that the company, in their opinion, secretly has hired officers from outside the local district. During the investigation, the security guards found four molotov cocktails in the workers' residential area. The Chief of the Army District Command took this as evidence that the sabotage was planned in advance.
A security force counting about 250 army soldiers and policemen has, according to the Indonesian newspaper, constantly guarded the area after the sabotage. A meeting between the company management and representatives of seven villages, among them three of the villages responsible for the fire, was to be held on the factory premises. This meeting was moved to a nearby hotel for security reasons. According to the news article, PT Tel offered help to the local community at the meeting, among others offering 250 jobs to the locals and 200 scholarships for primary school children from the villages around the factory.
- I dare to give this offer without informing the shareholders, said Director Jansen, according to Sriwijaya Post.
"Why can't these companies do their business at home instead of coming here and ruining our lives?"
Local peasant whose land has been occupied by PT Tel, NorWatch no. 6/99
It is unclear why the meeting between the villagers and the company management was to be held, and why all the villages behind the sabotage action were not represented in the meeting. However, it is a fact that there has been a long-lasting conflict between the locals and PT Tel. This was obvious when NorWatch visited the area in December 1998 to investigate the cellulose giant's environmental record and relationship with the local population (see NorWatch no 6/99). Approximately 4500 people from six villages have lost land and property because of the company's factory and plantations which supply the cellulose production with timber. The population complain about lack of compensation, and that local and central authorities have ignored local protests against the loss of land and the damage of resources which they depend upon. Many times, the villagers have demonstrated against the company and against threats and violence from the army and the police. In the village Benakat, people tried to defend their land with knives and sticks, while women from the village Desa Dalam stood naked in front of the bulldozers to prevent the destruction of their rubber trees. On the other hand, the President of Kværner Pulp & Paper in Jakarta said during Norwatch's visit to Indonesia that he was unaware of the criticism against PT Tel. Kværner has, through a Finnish subsidiary, been responsible for delivering chemical and power recovery boiler to the factory in Sumatra, worth between 340 and 375 million kroner.
"Now we have no land, hardly any income, no future. We send protests to the authorities and the prosecuting authority, but they do not reply."
Villager in the PT Tel construction area, NorWatch no. 6/99
Denies molotov cocktail
After New Year, NorWatch's contacts in Sumatra confirmed the fire incident at PT Tel. The organisation LBH Palembang, a group of lawyers assisting locals in their struggle against PT Tel, has investigated the case.
- According to our latest investigations, the villagers admitted setting the wood on fire. They are dissatisfied with PT Tel ignoring their demands, lawyer Amin from LBH Palembang writes to NorWatch in an e-mail dated 25 January.
According to Amin, the locals demand compensation for loss of land and employment. The villagers also demand measures against air pollution. However, the activists and the local population deny that they have had anything to do with the molotov cocktail bombs which were found two days after the fire. So far, the villagers have not benefitted from the 250 jobs which PT Tel promised them. But according to Amin, the company has re-engaged the 860 workers who were dismissed after the fire.
Kværner in Sumatra
Kværner Pulping Power Division, which has its head office in Finland, is responsible for deliveries of chemical and power recovery boilers to the cellulose giant PT Tel in the South Sumatra province. The contract was worth between 340 and 375 million Norwegian kroner. PT Tel (PT Tanjung Enim Lestari) is controlled by the Indonesian company Barito Pacific Group (51%), the Japanese company Sumatra Pulp (33%), and Citro Group (16%), which is controlled by former dictator Suharto's oldest daughter Tutut. Barito Pacific Group has, through its subsidiary PT Musi Hutan Persada, been given a concession the size of 447.000 hectares, of which 300.000 are to be planted with fast-growing trees which will provide PT Tel with timber. At the time of the planned start of the plant last year, the production capacity was 500.000 tonnes of cellulose per year, and according to the plan, the capacity will be increased to 1 million tonnes of cellulose a year. PT Tel is the first cellulose plant in Indonesia which is established by means of a majority of foreign investment.
Norwatch Newsletter 1/00