Tension rising once more at KSU Amelia as new land rights disputes fester in wake of local activists’ murder in 2019 at the North Sumatra plantation.
Land rights disputes over palm oil concessions are common across Indonesia.
Continued legal uncertainty surrounding contested land
ownership and user rights risks re-escalating violent conflict at a contested
palm oil plantation in North Sumatra, only four months after two local
activists were assassinated allegedly on the orders of a company manager.
The risks of further conflict reportedly stem from an
increase in thefts of palm oil fresh fruit bunches (FFB) from land claimed to
be part of the PT Sei Alih Berombang (PT SAB) plantation – also known as
KSU Amelia, according to anonymous local sources cited by local news
Suara News in February.
The Indo Suara News source reportedly attributed the thefts
to competing groups of local people from surrounding villages, and called for
action from the North Sumatra Provincial Forestry Service.
“Our hope is that the North Sumatra Provincial Forestry
Service Government will be firm,” the source is quoted as saying. “If it
is allowed to be harvested, the residents agree the distribution of blocks of
“Don’t ignore it, if left unchecked the threat is it will
lead to them fighting over mutual ownership claims. This is very dangerous,
it is feared they will have a fight. It was originally a small fight, but
over time has become big. Yeah like a bomb bang, waiting to explode.”
The source reportedly added: “We are afraid that the
resident FFB harvesters in the region will claim ownership over each other ‘s
areas until the clash leads to a stabbing”.
Local community harvesting of FFBs from the contested KSU
Amelia land has reportedly increased since the plantation was seized by
officials following the murder of local activists Maraden Sianipar and Martua
Siregar in October 2019, but then abandoned soon after.
The activists were allegedly murdered by KSU Amelia security
guards on the orders of its manager Wibharry Padmoasmolo, according to police
statements to journalists at the time.
Maraden and Martua were reported to have been working with
local communities to take control of oil palms and contested land within the
KSU Amelia site – activities that had generated tensions with the company’s
to the police.
Local sources reportedly told Indo Suara News that the
continued thefts and tensions arising from them are a result of both legal
uncertainty over KSU Amelia’s contested land claims and those of local
communities, along with a lack of enforcement by local forestry police.
The absence of clear legal land tenure and enforcement
has plagued the plantation for years.
Eight years before the murders, in October 2011, officials
at the National Land Agency acknowledged that KSU Amelia/ PT SAB had no land
use permit, and the provincial forestry service acknowledged the firm was
operating on the forest estate without authorisation in violation of a
In April 2014, Indonesian media reported that communities
surrounding the plantation urged the local parliament to close KSU Amelia.
Villagers also complained the company had destroyed dozens of hectares of their
crops on the land.
Two years later a North Sumatra parliament commission held a
hearing with the National Land Agency, local forestry office, cooperatives
department, and the Panai Hilir District head and reportedly concluded that KSU
Amelia had encroached on 700ha of state-owned production forest, 350ha of which
was reportedly planted with palm oil.
In this context local community groups have felt
increasingly emboldened to occupy land and harvest FFBs from what was
officially acknowledged to be land illegally occupied by KSU Amelia.
In January, police
reported that three further suspects in the murders of Martua and
Maraden remained on the run, while the five suspects arrested in November,
including alleged mastermind Wibharry Padmoasmolo, remained in custody pending
instructions from prosecutors.