UCA News


North Sumatra tribesmen seek support of Indonesian bishops

Church help sought in fight to reclaim land snatched by big business for plantations

Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
North Sumatra tribesmen seek support of Indonesian bishops

Indigenous people from Simalungun district in North Sumatra meet Carmelite Father Egidius Eko Aldilanto, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, at the bishop's office in Jakarta on Oct. 7. (Photo supplied)

Share this article :
Indigenous communities in North Sumatra are seeking the help of Catholic bishops and Protestant leaders to reclaim land they say was snatched from them by large companies to set up plantations.

Tribal leaders from Simalungun district in North Sumatra met Indonesian Bishops' Conference officials in Jakarta on Oct. 7 and officials from the Communion of Churches in Indonesia a day later.

"We sought them out because we have been dragged into a conflict created by capitalist corporations," Donald Ambarita, one of the indigenous leaders, told ucanews.

Ambarita said they believe the Christian leaders can help find a solution to their problems by meeting relevant parties.

He said clashes had taken place between community members and firms, the last being against a pulp and paper company, PT Toba Pulp Lestari.

He said a clash between the tribal people and company employees on Sept. 16 saw two indigenous people arrested. They remain in police custody.

“We ask the bishops' conference and communion of churches to become facilitators between the communities and companies,” he said.

Carmelite Father Egidius Eko Aldilanto, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, said he would back the communities in fighting for their rights and would coordinate with Medan Archdiocese and the Capuchins' Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation on practical steps to help them.

"In facing the evil of capitalism, people must unite and move together,” he said.

Tribal leaders earlier met the National Human Rights Commission and some parliament members to ask for their support in winning the release of the two people in police custody.

According to Norma Parry Handini, a spokeswoman for PT Toba Pulp Lestari, the clash occurred when company employees and security personnel tried to stop farmers planting corn on the company's concession.

Efpran Pranoto of the Indonesian Christian Student Movement said when it comes to conflict over ancestral lands, the government must ensure that the people are protected and not criminalized.

He also called on President Joko Widodo to pay serious attention to the problems faced by tribal communities throughout Indonesia.

“Indigenous land issues are serious because mafioso are at play using agrarian reform programs to exploit tribal people," he said.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM


Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."