Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra
Provincial councillors here have demanded that the local police and military take action against thieves of palm oil kernels and their backers, who are believed to be security officers
Chairman of the Provincial Legislative Council's Commission for Legal Affairs, Jantogu Damanik, said on Tuesday, many palm oil plantation operators, (either state or private), had complained to the legislature about rampant theft. They said the looting, that sometimes involved children, had amounted to tens of billions of rupiah in financial losses.
He said that the councillors had written to the provincial police chief Insp. Gen. Edi Sunarno and military commander Maj. Gen. Imam Tamtomo asking them to take immediate action in dissolving the theft ring as the crime involved security officers.
""The thieves operate in an obvious way but are difficult to arrest as they are supported by security officers and plantation firm executives,"" Jantogu said.
The President Commissioner of a private palm oil plantation company, PT Kuala Gunung, John Alwi, admitted his firm had been targeted by the thieves for some time now.
He said the theft from the plantations, which are located in Limapuluh district in Asahan regency, involved children and women.
The most cases of theft occurred in 2001 with losses estimated at over 800 tons of kernels.
""We asked at that time for help from the Police Mobile Brigade, but the looting did not subside. The funds we provided for security were a great burden to our budget as our output ranges between 5,000 and 6,000 tons per year only,"" he said.
Provincial police spokesman Sr. Comr. Amrin Karim said the police were conducting intensive operations to fight the theft.
He said that police had discovered the involvement of other police and military officers in 10 cases of palm oil kernel theft in plantations, belonging to the state forestry company PTPN last year.
The police have recorded 286 cases of theft between January 2002 and July 2003 and named 443 suspects -- including 12 police officers and eight military personnel. The police also confiscated around 50 tons of kernels, 300 tons of palm oil seeds and three trucks, as evidence.
District courts across the province sentenced 174 thieves to imprisonment last year and are expected to pass sentence over the remaining suspects this year.