Controversy over fatal shootings in Komodo National Park

Down to Earth No 57  May 2003

What lessons will be learned from the shooting dead of two local fishermen at the Komodo National Park, managed by US-based conservation organisation, The Nature Conservancy?

On the night of November 9th 2002, security personnel at the Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara province, approached a small group of boats suspected of illegal fishing activities. What exactly happened next is disputed but, by the early hours of November 10th, two fishermen had been shot dead.

According to the Komodo National Park Bureau's version of events, the men were suspected of hunting illegally on Komodo island. The Park's 3-person inventory team reported how they saw suspicious activity on land and heard boats coming to shore in the darkness. On November 8th, the team fired warning shots at a boat which had landed at Loh Wia, on the western part of Komodo Island.

After co-ordinating with the park authorities, members of the local police station and the local military, a team was sent to watch suspect areas. At around 9 pm on November 9th, a boat was heard coming into Loh Wia waters, followed by about four more half an hour later. One of the boats came to the shore and landed. There was movement back and forth from boat to shore. The boat then moved off and the team requested assistance from the park's floating ranger stations. A speedboat was sent and caught up with the nearest boat and fired six warning shots. These were ignored, according to the report.

In the pursuit and apprehending of the nearest two boats, two men were shot dead. Fourteen other men then surrendered, while the three other boats escaped into the darkness. Two compressors (used for diving) were found on the boats along with 2 high pressure hoses and several lobsters.


PIAR / Kontras investigation

However, an investigation conducted by the Indonesian NGO PIAR, and the human rights organisation, Kontras, presents a different version of events.

The fishermen involved said they had not resisted the officials, nor carried any explosives on their boats (these are used in illegal fishing).

According to a witness, two boats, the Halifah I and II, were going to Kelapa Islands to catch lobster, fish and squid. They had come from Sape, Bima, to the west of Komodo Island.

At around 1am on November 10th, a series of shots was fired towards the Halifah I. There were no warning shots, according to the NGO report.

Two fishermen, Jaenul Arifin (25) and Mohamad Yamin (18) were shot dead on the spot. The report names one soldier and one navy personnel as those who fired the shots.

After this, the Halifah II, which was not far from the first boat, was also apprehended. Nine fishermen were ordered into the speedboat and brought to one of the floating ranger stations.

All the crew of Halifah I and II were ordered to strip naked. They were beaten, threatened and terrorised. At around 2 o'clock in the morning they were taken to Sooid, on the western side of Komodo island where they were again beaten and kicked until dawn. The bodies of the two fishermen were left lying on the boat.

The fishermen were held for 3 days, then released because there was no proof that they were carrying explosives.

The PIAR/Kontras report ends by saying that terror, intimidation and even shootings have become part of the fishermen's lives and that this has got worse since the central government invited TNC to co-manage the park.

According to fisherfolk, their boats are ransacked by the park's patrols almost everytime they go out to sea. Guards board the boats without permission and harangue and shout at the crew. Some of the crew have had weapons pointed at their face and ordered to go back. According to the fishermen, they don't carry the explosives the security guards are looking for. As they use fish traps and dive for lobsters, the only equipment they have on board is a compressor, flashlight and high pressure hose.

Since the November shooting incident, intimidation against fishermen has increased. Even traders wanting to enter Labuan Bajo harbour to sell salt are ordered to go home, without any clear explanation. With insufficient supplies of salt, the fishermen of Labuan Bajo and nearby coastal villages, can't salt their fish (salt is used as a preservative). Sape fishermen are banned from entering Komodo waters.

Such shootings have been carried out for decades. The NGO report lists nine shooting incidents since 1980. They include a total of eight deaths and 3 disappearances (in 1998). The families of the dead have not until now brought any legal action because they say they do not have the money.



Both versions of events were published by PIAR at a press conference in Kupang, West Timor in January 2003. PIAR urged the local government to resolve the various problems that have arisen due to the existence of the Komodo National Park, the emergence of conflict between communities and repeated violence towards local people. PIAR also:

  • urged the Bima police to arrest those responsible for the shooting and violence which resulted in the two fishermen's deaths in November 2002 and thoroughly investigate the incident which falls within its jurisdiction;
  • urged TNC, as the manager of the Komodo National Park, to stop all forms of violence and intimidation against people whose livelihoods depend on the area;
  • urged the forestry minister immediately to review its policies regarding the Komodo National Park because it is causing hardship to local people and traditional fisherfolk whose livelihoods and futures depend on this area;
  • appealed to all people in East and West Nusa Tenggara provinces who live in and depend on the area around the national park for their livelihoods not to be provoked by people who want to pitch communities against each other.


The Komodo National Park

The Komodo National Park was established in 1980 originally to protect the famous Komodo dragon and its habitat. In 1986 the park was declared as a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Since 1995 TNC the US-based organisation, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) has helped manage Komodo. TNC drew up the park's 25 year management plan. The park includes three major islands: Komodo, Rinca and Padar, as well as numerous smaller islands creating a total surface area (marine and land) of 1817km2 (proposed extensions would bring the total surface area up to 2,321km2).

On the park's website, TNC states that the greatest immediate threat to the park comes from outside fishermen engaged in destructive fishing practices. A page on law enforcement explains that TNC has helped form a team consisting of park rangers, navy, police and fishery services, which works together to carry out routine patrolling. Since its inception in 1996, blast fishing (using explosives to catch fish) has declined by over 80%. TNC says that the use of hookah compressors and fish traps are among those fishing methods that continue to threaten the coral reefs and deepwater fish stocks. It wants a ban on hookah compressors which are used in dynamite and cyanide fishing. It says that fishing for lobsters damages the coral reefs and that in July 2000 the district government announced that no more licences for compressor fishing would be given for the area.



Jakarta protest

In early March, a meeting was held at WALHI's national executive office in Jakarta with community representatives from the Komodo area and a number of other Indonesian NGOs (PBHI, Kontras, Elsam and Komodo Watch) to analyse the facts and discuss ways of resolving the problems at Komodo National Park. The meeting issued a 'strong protest' to the media and was followed by meetings with the forestry department (as it has responsibility for national parks) and the police headquarters to follow up on the shootings.

The groups called on the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) to investigate the Komodo case. Leaving it to the police, would be the same as just letting the violations continue, they said. They also called for TNC no longer to be involved in the Park management and pressed for a government review of the concept of security and protection and conservation in national parks.


TNC reaction

TNC and the forestry department both reacted to the groups' statement. TNC's clarification said that the NGOs had received erroneous information, which led them to mistaken conclusions about the role of TNC in the November shooting incident.

The statement said that enforcing Indonesian law has been an integrated part of the park's management since the park was established over 20 years ago. Since 1985 there have been 36 cases of violations, including illegal hunting, fishing using explosives and cyanide. 25 cases have been brought to court and 70 people have been jailed for between 3 and 10 months. All these cases have been violations of Indonesian law.

In its agreement with the government, TNC must also provide logistical assistance for law enforcement in the park. TNC has provided several support boats (floating ranger stations) to be used by the park bureau for securing the area, but it is the park bureau with the help of the local government and combined military and civilian authority (Muspika) that is responsible for upholding the law. TNC said the two fishermen shot dead in November 2002 were fishing illegally, and resisted arrest. The shots were fired by the joint park / Muspika security team and no TNC staff were on board the boat.

According to TNC data, another fisherman was killed in 1996 when the bomb he was about to throw at the park's speedboat, went off. In November 2000 a group of illegal hunters threw a bomb at the patrol boat. The hunters opened fire, and two were killed when the patrol boat returned fire. TNC said that, to its knowledge, there has been no law enforcement incident since it has been involved in the park which did not follow the legal procedure nor any which violated human rights. Indeed, in several incidents, park staff have been shot at by armed illegal hunters, but they remain extra careful in responding and always try to avoid casualties.

The TNC statement expressed regret for any loss of life and appealed for people who have additional information about other fatal incidents to follow up with the authorities. TNC said it would increase efforts to improve the performance and capacity of park patrol officials.

TNC said the park's zoning system and management plan has secured the agreement of local communities and local government. It said it was helping to develop additional sources of income for local fisherfolk, through activities such as seaweed and fish cultivation and eco-tourism in order to provide sustainable livelihoods.

The forestry department issued a press release saying the government has never directed the joint operation team to shoot arbitrarily any fisherman taking fish from Komodo waters. The statement says that the government will emphasise preventative forms of security for the park and will support the Sape/Bima fishermen so they can understand the conservation efforts and become partners in managing the park.


Privatisation controversy

A separate controversy has emerged over TNC's plan to put the management of the Komodo National into the hands of a private company, majority owned by the US NGO. PT Putri Naga Komodo is 60% owned by TNC and 40% by Malaysia-born hotel businessman Feisol Hashim (a relative of Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahatir Muhammad).

The company is proposing to manage the park for 25 years, and wants to generate more cash for conservation from eco-tourism and marketing, according to a report in the Jakarta Post. The idea is supported by the World Bank and some of the communities living in the park. But there have been strong objections from other local people and local NGOs who say that neither they, nor the local government have been consulted about the plan and will not have a share in the benefits. (Jakarta Post 6/May/03)

If the plan goes ahead this could set a worrying precedent: privatising national parks has serious implications for indigenous peoples whose customary-owned lands fall within the boundaries of national parks.

(Source: Statement, 12 March 2003, by Komodo Community Advocacy Team - Bima district government clarification team; WALHI, PBHI, Kontras, ELSAM and Komodo Watch; Klarifikasi TNC, TNC Indonesia Program, received 31/Mar/03; Press Release, Kepala Pusat Informasi Kehutanan 20/Mar/03)