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North Sumatra tribesmen seek support of Indonesian bishops

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

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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)

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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.

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