The Jakarta Post
Prior to its promotion to national park status, Tesso Nilo forest was a Limited Production Forest (HPT), which covered an area of 83,064 hectares (ha). In 2004 the forest was designated as Tesso Nilo National Park (TNNP).
The first phase of the conversion consisted of 38,576 ha and was based on Forestry Ministry Decree No. SK.255/Menhut-II/2004, dated July 19, 2004. The next phase, consisting of over 44,492 ha, was based on Forestry Ministry Decree No. SK 663/Menhut-II/2009, dated Oct. 15, 2009.
Most of TNNP is located in the Riau regency of Pelalawan, while a small portion is situated in neighboring Indragiri Hulu.
Despite its change of status into a protected national park, the current forested area in TNNP only amounts to some 20,000 ha. This ugly fact is the result of unchecked illegal land clearing for oil palm plantations. Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono has been involved in the efforts to reverse this trend and restore the forest's function as a national park.
Kirono ordered Mobile Brigade teams to assist the TNNP management in Lubuk Kembang Bunga village in Pelalawan to catch illegal loggers in the act. As part of the park's restoration program, the police are now assisting the government in evicting thousands of families who have been living in the villages inside the park for years.
The eviction process is highly controversial, even among the policymakers. Ian Siagian, a House of Representatives member, has asked the Forestry Ministry to immediately set limits for the boundaries of TNNP to provide certainty for residents who own oil palm plantations in the surrounding area as according to Republika online. He said about 1,000 ha of land used for oil palm plantations, owned by 500 households, might be destroyed despite the fact that they secured land ownership certificates issued by the National Land Agency since 1999.
But the forestry minister claims that the certificates are not original. The impact of this decision is significant, as the residents are now afraid to return to their oil palm plantations because of potential police action.
Fear is not the only emotion that people are feeling in TNNP. A strong desire to defend their homesteads and livelihoods is the other overwhelming emotion pervading the area. Since Hollywood star Harrison Ford recently visited TNNP to film a documentary titled Years of Living Dangerously, the atmosphere inside the park has been extremely tense.
At least 1,500 families, or about 10,000 inhabitants, have lived in settlements inside the TNNP area for the past decade. These citizens are now restless and are threatened by the prospect of their land being taken over by the government. They arm themselves with machetes and other sharp weapons to defend their cause. This is all thanks to Ford and the drama he instigated during his visit.
Fearful for their homesteads, the settlers are now denying entry to foreigners. In the end, Ford's sabre rattling has disrupted the lives of the otherwise peaceful inhabitants of TNNP and created the potential for a huge conflict between the police and the community.
Based on the findings of the TNNP Bureau, there are at least 22 villages that directly intersect TNNP. It has been confirmed that three villages were violated. They are Bagan Limau, Air Hitam and Lubuk Kembang Bunga. In 2010, the bureau forced the clean-out of the core area of TNNP by bringing down the oil palm trees in Bagan Limau. The bureau, along with the police, successfully brought down 200 ha of oil palm trees, which had an average age of less than 10 years. Unfortunately, the long-term results of the efforts are unclear. Head of TNNP, Kupin Simbolon, said that approximately 30,000 ha had been converted into oil palm plantations and residential areas. According to Kupin, he has not taken repressive action against the settlers because the TNNP problem is so complex.
This situation is nothing new to Indonesia, where restrictive action is never taken in the first place, thereby leading to greater problems down the road. This is currently unfolding in TNNP. After a decade of benign neglect by TNNP officials and the government, one would think that the people who settled in the park have by now surely acquired certain rights as squatters.
The situation begs the question how these people could have obtained 'permission' to live in TNNP and make a living there for 10 years if they were doing so illlegally? And, should the people who still live there be forced to suffer because the government refused to enforce its own land laws?
Ford has gone home to California, leaving an unfolding human drama in his wake ' one that is unlikely to provide the plot for his next blockbuster film.
The writer is an independent researcher for the Dekker Center focusing on political studies of civil society movements and environmental issue in Indonesia. The views expressed are personal.
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