In Brief... DTE 58 - August 2003

Down to Earth No 58  August 2003

Two dead in Lonsum plantation dispute

On July 21, one 30-year old man was killed and another was reported to be in a critical condition after police shot at villagers in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi. Four of the injured were suffering from gun-shot wounds, according to media reports. Another man died on July 25th, during surgery to remove a bullet from his leg. Eighteen people were reported to be severely injured.

This is the latest incident in a long-running dispute between the villagers and PTLonsum, which has a rubber plantation on customary (adat) land owned by the villagers.

The Bulukumba police said they were pursuing four people suspected of being behind the incident, including two activists from a local organisation, Yayasan Pendidikan Rakyat. The villagers are reported to have cut down around 1,000 rubber trees on the Lonsum plantation. They were also protesting against the detention of two protesters during a protest in May this year. 
(, 22/Jul/03; TVRI, 22/Jul/03; Biotani/PANIndonesia 28/Jul/03)

Lonsum has been involved in violent confrontations over land before - see for example the 1999 East Kalimantan Dayak case, in DTE 42.

The shootings in Bulukumba district occurred around 5 kilometres from the scene of mass crop-burning protests against GM cotton two years ago - see DTE 51.

World Bank pollution warning

One in three of all children in Indonesia - about 30 million - face permanent damage from the effects of pollution, warns the World Bank's Indonesia Environment Monitor 2003, released in June. Air pollution-related illnesses are reaching epidemic proportions in many villages, said the report. Other issues included the illegal and untreated disposal of 90% of solid and hazardous waste, uncontrolled urbanisation, widespread forest fires, contamination of urban water sources and growth of car ownership. (Guardian25/Jun/03) 
For the full report visit

IFC invests in more oil palm

The IFC has agreed US$26 million in loans to two Indonesian oil palm plantation companies - Verdaine Investment Ltd, and PTSahabat Mewah Makmur, which is owned by Verdaine. Verdaine aims to acquire, rehabilitate and manage 40,000 to 50,000 hectares of oil palm plantations. The company's director said that both Verdaine and IFC were committed to good corporate governance, sustainable development and the creation of employment.

The International Finance Corporation is the private investment arm of the World Bank. (Jakarta Post 5/Jul/03).

The large-scale oil palm industry is notorious in Indonesia for destroying forests, taking over indigenous lands, using fire to clear land and abysmal labour conditions. It is favoured by the Jakarta government and its international creditors because it can bring in high export earnings (US$1.7bn worth of oil palm oil and kernels were exported last year). But the profits do not take into account the huge social and environmental costs.

Rio Tinto and BP to sell KPC coal mine

East Kalimantan's provincial government has reacted angrily to a surprise decision by UK-based multinationals Rio Tinto and BP to sell off the giant Kaltim Prima coal mine to Indonesian-owned PT Bumi Resources. The East Kalimantan government has threatened to stop the coal mine operating, saying that the sale of the company's shares is a violation of KPC's contract. (Jakarta Post 24/Jul/03)

Although BP and Rio Tinto have each owned 50% of KPC for more than a decade, neither has accepted responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of the mine. The livelihoods of indigenous communities are being destroyed as the mine progressively opens up coal deposits for open cast mining on what was originally rainforest. Acidic water drains from the huge coal mine into the adjacent River Sangatta, used by local people. (See DTE 57 for background.)


New film made by Sumatran plantation workers

Visit for information on The Globalisation Tapes - a collaboration between the Independent Plantation Workers' Union of Sumatra, the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF) and Vision Machine Film Project.

This densely lyrical globalisation story is told not by experts, but by union members from oil palm plantations, who trace developments from their roots in colonialism to the present, through chilling first-hand accounts, improvised interventions, collective debate and archival collage.