Excavator stopped by authorities
The son of a local parliament chief has been named a suspect
over illegal land clearing in the Singkil Swamp Wildlife Reserve, a protected
area in Indonesia that is home to the densest population of Sumatran
Teuku Popon Rizal is the son of Teuku Zulhelmi, the head of the legislature in South Aceh district, in the province of Aceh. Rizal is alleged to have had a hand in the destruction of a corner of the reserve where last October authorities discovered three workers operating an excavator.
The men were apparently preparing to establish
an oil palm estate. Hauled in for questioning, they said Rizal had sent them.
Rizal himself was interrogated in November, Ipda Adrianaus,
the head of the South Aceh Police unit in charge of the case, said on Tuesday.
As Adrianus told it, Rizal admitted to ordering the land clearance while also
claiming that he didn’t know it was a protected zone and that the land belonged
to his family.
The Singkil reserve faces the Indian Ocean on Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra. It lies at the heart of one the region’s largest, deepest and most intact peat swamp landscapes, a crucial carbon sink that has formed over thousands of years.
It is also part of the Leuser Ecosystem, the only place where rhinos,
tigers, elephants and orangutans still coexist in the wild.
The case is the just the latest example of encroachment in
Indonesia’s protected areas. The blame tends to fall on impoverished villagers,
but the revelation of Rizal’s involvement highlights the role often played by
more powerful actors.
A recent study by the Center for International Forestry
Research, a Bogor-based thinktank, for example, described how
members of political parties and local elites organize farmers to
slash-and-burn land in Riau province, not far from Aceh, before selling
the land to a variety of large and small buyers. The practice is illegal in
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