Papuan tribes seek support to take back ancestral land

Tribal delegations and environmental activists lobby govt in bid to kick palm oil firms off disputed land
Papuan tribes seek support to take back ancestral land

Representatives of Papuan tribes hold a protest on Nov. 15 in front of the office of Indofood Group, the parent company of PT Bintuni Argo Prima Perkasa, which is accused of grabbing their ancestral land. (Photo supplied by Franky Samperante)

Indigenous Papuans and activist priests have met Indonesian government officials in Jakarta to seek support in their fight against plantation companies who they say seized their ancestral land.

Representatives from six tribes, accompanied by church and environmental activists, met officials from the agriculture and environment ministries.

Samuel Ariks from the Mpur tribe in West Papua's Tambrauw district said more than 19,300 hectares of their forest land was seized.

He said PT Bintuni Argo Prima Perkasa claims to have a permit giving them control of the land. "From the start we opposed the firm, but it went and cleared our forests," he told

Police are guarding the place and people cannot access the land anymore.

"The Mpur are farmers and hunters. We treat our forest like our mother because it gives us food," Ariks said.

Petrus Kinggo said the Mandobo tribe has a similar problem and is fighting a palm oil company over 50,000 hectares. "The government needs to be more open in solving this problem," he said.

The Mandobo tribe resisted attempts to woo them but a license was granted and now people are being forced to accept its consequences, he added.

Father Nico Rumbayan from Merauke Diocese's Justice and Peace Commission, who accompanied the tribal people, said the Papuans did not have a real say before the issuing of the permits.

"When they complained, they had to deal with the security forces," he said.

Lidya Monalisa Upuya from the Indonesian Christian Church in Papua said the government should revoke all licenses and rehabilitate the forest. "The intimidation and violence must also be stopped," she said.

Sigit Nugroho from the Environment Ministry promised to evaluate the permits. "The ministry will examine whether the companies are meeting obligations to preserve the environment," he said.

According to West Papua Regional Police spokesman Hary Supriyono, police have been called to plantations to provide security at the request of firms.

"People are free to hold demonstrations related to land disputes as long as they remain peaceful," he said.

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