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Agrarian Reform Priority Locations (Part-8)

Land Control Overlapping of Merbau Villagers and MHP Inc. at Ogan Komering Ulu

OKU – It has similar situation to Jambi province in the condition and level of agrarian conflicts. Large scale plantations owned by private companies mostly cause the emergence of the conflicts. Villagers’ cultivation areas are usually overlapping with companies’ production areas. Regional government’s indecision over the matter, which tends to let those conflicts develop, has worsen the situation. Moreover there are a lot of hidden relations between regional government in issuing concession rights in the area.

Merbau village of Batang subdistrict, Ogan Komering Ulu district, South Sumatra is one of those area inflicted by government indecision in dealing with fraud acts of private company, which sent them into a protracted agrarian conflicts. It is one of old village that has existed since 1410. One of the indicators was the existence of 7 ancient graves of their ancestors. They have made their living arrangements since before Indonesian Republic was established. They have governed their ancestral land under ulayat right.

Today, Merbau village is determined as one of underdeveloped villages in OKU Induk district area. It consisted of five dusun which cover 8,681 hectares of land. It consists of 6,511 production forest (HP), and other use of area (APL) around 2,169 hectares. About 3,858 hectares of production forest is governed by 2,566 villagers.

The conflict began when Musi Hutan Persada (MHP) Inc. entered the area. The company is a joint venture company of Enim Lestari Inc. and InHut Tani II Inc. It held a Decree of the Minister of Forestry No. 205/ktps-II/1991 dated on April 13th, 1991. In 1990, MHP Inc. managed the production forest that has been governed by the villagers and changed it into an agreement production forest of Niru under a Decree of the Minister of Forestry No. 400/kpts-II/1990. The land was handed over under consideration of the development trilogy aggressively implemented by President Soeharto.

It was expected that forestry and its products development, after right over the land was handed over to the company, would increase villagers prosperity, especially those inside and surround working area of MHP Inc. However, the company’s acts were contrary to the expectation. It was instead evicted the villagers of their rights without any compensation.

In 1995, South Sumatra Governor sent his recommendation to the Minister of Forestry to review the Decree of Governance which were previously given to MHP Inc. contained in the Letter No. 522/00237/1995. As a follow-up, in 1996 the Minister of Forestry issued Decree of Niru Forest Production governance to MHP Inc. under the Decree of Minister of Forestry No. 03B/KPTS-II/1996 which contained a decision that the Decrees of Minister of Forestry No. 205/KTPS-II/1991, No. 316/KPTS-II/1991, No. 626/KPTS-II/1992 including the maps and their attachment were expired. However, MHP Inc. ignored the instruction by holding on the Decree of 1991 which has expired.

In an effort to mute villagers opposition acts concerning the eviction, in 1997 MHP Inc. proposed a program of People Forest Management (MHR) by writing an agreement letter that every one of the villagers whose land was evicted by the company would be given 1 hectare of rubber plantation. However, it was a fraud, MHP Inc. forced villagers to plant acacia on the land instead.

On September 11th, 2009, Merbau villagers reported MHP Inc.’s behavior to the head of OKU Induk district. It has not received any follow-ups until today. Finally, seeing a chance in political situation, on July 19th, 2014, the villagers proposed Forestry Partnership Program of the villagers and MHP Inc. to the head of OKU Induk district. They expected that rubber plants and other forest production on 3,858 hectares of land which were previously under ulayat right of Merbau villagers will receive legal acknowledgment.

The land is cultivated by villagers who have joined in 17 peasant groups, which united into Merbau Joint Venture of Peasant Group Union. The proposal referred to the Minister of Forestry Regulation No. P.39/Menhut-II/2013 on Local People Empowerment through Forestry Partnership. However it was rejected by MHP Inc. Even a part of land that was proposed in the Partnership has already cultivated again by the company. The company’s acts was clearly against existing regulation.

In 2002, the company ha conducted a criminalization act against Merbau villagers by arresting the leader of peasant group. The company accused that villagers had entered its land. However it could not be proven.

Today, the villagers plant paddy and corn and produce them in large quantities, so they always celebrate the harvest. The villagers’ organization has also strengthened and grown by the joining of newcomers. They established new peasant groups: Karya Baru, Karya Tani and Karya Maju. The newcomers arrived upon their interest of fertile land on the area.

Many efforts conducted by the villagers in the matter of the dispute have not yet come into light. The indifference of regional government in dealing with the matter, despite there were so many misconducts carried by the  company, is a large boulder for villagers’ desire. Though there are several regulations that can be referred to back up villagers expectation, moreover they are strengthened by the 2014 Joint Regulation of Four Ministers on Resolution Procedures of Land Control in Forest Area. Not to mention the Regulation of Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning No. 10 of 2016 on Procedures of Communal Rights over Indigenous People Ancestral Land and People on Particular Area. All of them secures the villagers’ right through partnership or redistribution.

Considering those facts, there are absolutely no reason for regional government, which included provincial forestry service and National Land Agency of OKU, to postpone land redistribution for Merbau villagers. Besides, they have already controlled and cultivated the land long since Indonesia existed, surely they should have fulfilled all the requirements stated in the regulations existed.

To be continued. . .

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