Authorities clash with NTT indigenous community over disputed land

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Local authorities allegedly clashed with members of an indigenous community in Pubabu-Basipae village in South Central Timor regency, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), on Wednesday following the community’s continued rejection of a provincial agricultural program on disputed land.

A video uploaded to Instagram by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), an NGO, shows what appears to be a group of Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) officers and several other uniformed people kicking and hitting members of the Besipae indigenous community. They had reportedly refused to give up their customary land in Pubabu forest, which the administration had sought to claim.

Akhmad Bumi, a lawyer representing the community, said their rejection of the authorities had elicited a repressive attack. He said at least five women and children were injured in the clash. Among them was Demaris Tefa, 48, who in the video is slammed to the ground and appears to pass out. She reportedly suffered a neck injury.

“We condemn the NTT administration’s attack on the indigenous people of Pubabu Besipae,” Akhmad said in a written statement on Thursday.

Similar violence in the multiple year dispute occurred in August when security personnel allegedly verbally and physically abused members of the indigenous community during a forced eviction where 37 families were removed from their homes.

In February and March, security personnel also reportedly forcibly evicted residents from the area.

Akhmad called on the administration to explain the issuance of usage certification rights for land the indigenous community had claimed.

He said the certificate only covered Mio village and not other villages, such as Linamnutu, Pollo and Eno Neten.

“However, the administration claims other locations under the investment project, including 29 demolished houses in Linamnutu village,” he added.

The conflict emerged in 2013 when the term of an agreement between members of the community and the NTT administration regarding the use of the forest came to end.

In 1987, the Besipae community, which had inhabited the forest for generations, gave authorities permission to use the land as a cattle farm in a collaboration with the Australian government. The agreement was supposed to end in 2012.

Two years before the end date, however, local authorities proposed an extension, which the community rejected.

In 2013, the administration issued a right-of-use certificate for a 3,780 hectare area of the forest, which eventually triggered a conflict with the community. Akhmad asserted that authorities had intimidated the community and had forced them to leave the land.

In response to the viral video, East Nusa Tenggara Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) head Cornelis Wadu and East Nusa Tenggara Regional Revenue and Asset Agency acting head Welly Rohi Mone claimed the officials had been victims.

“My subordinate was actually the victim. [The clash] caused a bruise on the back of his head,” Welly said, as quoted by kompas.com on Thursday.

Welly said the authorities had come to Pubabu forest to carry out the provincial administration’s agricultural program for corn plantation and cow farming in the area.

However, the residents opposed their arrival. Welly claimed some villagers and Satpol PP personnel began tugging a hose as residents sought to prevent authorities from filling a water tank. He said a local woman slipped and fell while pulling the hose.

“A woman slipped, but we got beaten instead when we were about to help her get up,” he added.

Welly said he had reported the incident to the South Amanuban Police for alleged abuse.

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