Land claims in Lore Lindu result in deaths

Down to Earth No. 55, November 2002

A bitter dispute between the Lore Lindu National Park authorities in Central Sulawesi and local communities has resulted in the deaths of a local man and a forest ranger.

On 8th October, a forest patrol clashed with illegal loggers near Kalukubula. A local man was shot dead by a forest ranger and a ranger suffered serious knife wounds in the incident. The following day, hundreds of Dongi-dongi people burnt a park information office, rangers' posts and park staff housing. A forest ranger was killed in the attack. Park officials are blaming settlers belonging to the Forum Petani Merdeka (Farmers Freedom Forum) led by Papa Gola.


Complex land issues

About 60,000 people live in and around the 229,00 ha national park which was formally declared in 1993. Some are indigenous; others are settlers and transmigrants from south Sulawesi, Java and Bali. Traditional land ownership patterns in this part of central Sulawesi were severely disrupted by the upheavals of the DI/TII movement in the 1950s and 60s, the government's resettlement programme in the 1970s and 80s, and the imposition of protected area status.

These factors underpin long-running conflicts over land claims within the national park. Interpretations of recent events are hotly contested. According to some NGOs, dispossessed farmers have reclaimed land to which they have been denied access since the national park was created. They have nowhere else to live. In contrast, in the park authority's view, local opportunists have grabbed land to which they have no historical claim and are using this base to strip the park of valuable natural resources as quickly as possible.

What is not in doubt is that a mass occupation took place in June last year. Over 1,000 people settled some 3,000 ha within the park's boundaries, mainly in the Dongi-dongi valley. They are living in squalid conditions. Forest has been cleared for several hundred metres either side of the road; chainsaws are widely used and piles of timber await collection by truck.

Local NGO Yayasan Tanah Merdeka describes the Dongi-dongi settlers as 'victims of misguided government policy'. In government terminology they are 'local transmigrants'. Most of them are Kaili Da'a and Kulawi Suku Uma - indigenous peoples from Gunung Gawalise (20-30km away). Their families were forced to move as part of a government drive to resettle 'isolated communities' in the 1970s; some were whipped by soldiers as they left their homes. They were promised land in their new locations but, at best, got only small plots and at worst none. Instead the land went to people with money such as traders and local officials. However, some of them continued to tend their coffee plantations even when part of their land was included in the national park. Lore Lindu is included in the US$40,000 ADB-funded Central Sulawesi Integrated Development and Conservation project.



The issue has split local NGOs. Some Palu-based groups support indigenous communities living in enclaves within the park who complain that outsiders are plundering the forests which they are striving to preserve. They say settlers have built dozens of storehouses for the illegal logs, rattan, resin and endangered animals and resin they intend to sell. Others support the cause of local people looking for land to grow crops. These groups claim that the logging is the work of entrepreneurs from nearby villages or of local timber company, PT Palu Graha, and is nothing to do with the Forum Petani Merdeka. They also accuse local police and park rangers of collaborating with or previously ignoring illegal operations.

The local government has done nothing to negotiate a settlement. Lore Lindu's park head, Banjar Yulianto Laban, initially called on the local government to find the settlers alternative land holdings outside the park. However, Central Sulawesi's governor, Aminuddin Ponulele, considers the incident has been engineered by politically motivated NGOs and threatened to send in security forces. The Bupati of Donggala, where most of the settlers recently lived, offered over 1,000 ha of land to them but nothing came of this. More recently, he too has urged a 'security approach'.

The recent tragedy has caused a rift between the park authorities and environmental NGO WALHI. Tempers are running high with both sides talking about the 'arrogance' and 'excessive violence' of the other through the press and email. WALHI Sulteng has accused the park authorities of ecofascism, according to local newspapers, and is demanding that the head of the park resigns. In response, Banjar accuses the local WALHI group of supporting the farmers and provoking them to seek revenge for the death of their comrade. He has torn up a certificate presented to him by WALHI two years ago for his contribution to conservation. Banjar claims he had no alternative but to send armed park guards to the occupied area, to stop logging and other illegal operations and to protect the integrity of the core zone of the park.

All parties involved in this highly politicised dispute - local government, national park, NGOs, indigenous communities and settlers - need to agree a mechanism to resolve the underlying problems before the social and ecological problems in Lore Lindu get even worse. As yet, there are no signs of any peace initiatives.

(Sources: WALHI factsheet Sept 2001; Jakarta Post 29/Jun/01, 9/Feb/02, 18/Jun/02; Tempo 22/Jun/02; Republika 17/Jul/02; Nuasa Pos 20/Mar/02, 14/Oct/02; Kompas26/Oct/02 and other sources.)