The eviction of people who have set up homes in Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) in Langkat regency, North Sumatra, have been temporarily halted following a clash between locals and security officers on Monday.
TNGL agency head Andi Basrul said his office decided to suspend eviction efforts in an endeavor to restore order and create a conducive climate after the clash. “But we will soon restart the operation. By next month at the latest they all have to leave the TNGL area,” he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
Thousands of illegal inhabitants of TNGL were involved in a physical clash with a joint eviction team comprising forest rangers, police and military personnel on Monday. No fatalities were reported but 15 civilians and three security officers were injured.
Monday’s clash was the biggest and worst clash to happen in 11 years, with fights between security officers and illegal inhabitants, some of whom are refugees of the past Aceh conflict, occurring a number of times.
Andi said the clash would not have happened if the park encroachers did not pelt stones and wood at officers arriving in Sei Minyak, Langkat to advise them to leave the TNGL area.
“We were in the middle of negotiations when a number of people pelted us with stones and wood. Officers responded spontaneously by shooting into the air to disperse the crowd,” Andi said.
“We arrested three people alleged to be the inciters of the clash. They are being interrogated at the Langkat Police station,” he added.
Andi also accused park encroachers of being the actors behind the clash because they always interfered whenever the security officers tried to relocate former Aceh refugees from the park. He said the number of park encroachers at present was far higher than the number of Acehnese refugees in the area.
“According to our data, there are some 400 families living in the TNGL area in Langkat. Of them, only 40 families are former Acehnese refugees,” Andi said.
Others, he said, came from Karo and Langkat. They have inhabited park areas, such as Sei Minyak, Sei Betung, Sekoci and Barak Induk, for dozens of years.
Separately, a representative of the inhabitants, Sayed Zainal of Hutan Lestari advocacy institution, refuted the data presented by park officials, saying 605 families of Aceh refugees resided in the TNGL areas of Damar Hitam, Barak Induk and Sei Minyak.
Sayed said they had resided there since 1998, after fleeing Aceh to avoid conflict following the implementation of martial law in Aceh.
“They have been enjoying their lives in the park. They have complete facilities and are mostly doing agricultural work to earn a living,” Sayed told the Post on Wednesday.
He said most of the facilities such as school buildings, houses of worship and residential compounds were developed using donations from various institutions and individuals. He did not deny that among them were forest encroachers but they accounted only for 104 families.
Sayed said he was not against the relocation plan but suggested that it be done in a decent manner and through deliberation. “It must be done jointly by involving all the involved parties and not by force and by involving violence,” he said.
Relocation efforts have been made since December last year. Twenty-six families comprising 84 people have been relocated to Musi Banyuasin, South Sumatra, where each of the families were given a house built by the TNGL agency.