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Thousands rally for farmland reforms

Protests over land seizures and loss of livelihoods

Demonstrators say they can lose their land any time Demonstrators say they can lose their land any time
  • Ryan Dagur, Indonesia
  • Indonesia
  • September 25, 2012
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More than 10,000 people including farmers and activists from Jakarta and Java province demonstrated outside the Presidential Palace in the capital yesterday urging the government to distribute land titles for agriculture.

The protests, which remained peaceful throughout, also targeted the National Agrarian Board head office as farmers vented their anger at what they say are government policies that benefit the rich and the state while taking away from the poor.

Many of the protesters claim to have lost their property. “Millions of farmers don’t have land any more,” said Henry Saragih, a rally organizer and chairman of the Union of Indonesian Farmers.

Some claim that companies and the military seized land they had lived on for years.

In many rural areas, large tracts of land are often held through traditional joint-committee ownership, meaning it is usually unregistered with the relevant government land office.

Often the only paperwork is a letter issued by the sub-district or village to the landowners.

Neneng, a farmer who declined to give her family name, said she and other farmers could do nothing when the military seized 100 hectares of their farmland in Sukabumi, West Java, in 2007.

“It is true that the land was uncertified but we had it for many years,” she said.

The military took it over without offering any compensation, said Neneng, as they considered it to be property of the state, so everyone involved lost their livelihoods overnight.

Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said recently that settling the issue would help solve a source of major disputes in Indonesia, without saying whether or not the government planned to take action.

“Relentless conflict is caused by a lack of clarity on three factors: Land regulation, the function of land and the social role of land,” he was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post.

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