Sulawesi villagers revolt against big oil exploitation over « broken promises »

August 23rd, 2011

From the Jakarta Globe

An attack by villagers on the Tiaka oil field in Central Sulawesi on the weekend has resulted in two deaths, brought production to a halt and prompted the Navy to deploy two ships to the area, officials said on Tuesday.

The attack on the site in Tiaka Island began on Saturday when a group of about 30 protesters arrived to demand that the operator make good on promises to improve the welfare of residents in Kolo Bawah village.

The protesters launched their assault via wooden boats with Molotov cocktails and machetes. Riot police managed to restore order on Sunday, before a resurgence in attacks on Monday.

Col. Budi Utomo, the local naval commander, said the Navy would set up a presence there to secure the drilling station.

“Two navy ships will patrol the area,” he said.

Laila, a doctor at the nearby Luwuk General Hospital, said two of the protesters had died in the clashes. She said the first casualty, a villager identified as Yurifin, died on Monday, while the second, identified as Marten, died on Tuesday from multiple gunshot wounds.

She said police had refused to let family claim the bodies until they had carried out an autopsy.

The hospital is currently treating another six protesters, all of whom were admitted for gunshot wounds.

Police have deployed tight security around the hospital.

Separately, Gde Pradnyana, a spokesman for upstream oil and gas regulator BP Migas (a thinly-veiled BP branch in Indonesia), said the operators of the oil field had halted production on Monday after protesters attacked and destroyed facilities at the site, which is jointly run by state-owned oil company Pertamina and Medco E&P Tomori.

He said armed police and soldiers were now guarding the six wells, which produce 1,600 barrels of oil a day, while ground staff and crew were being evacuated.
Brig. Gen. Dewa Parsana, the provincial police chief, said 23 people had been named as suspects in the attack. He added police were also on the trail of several other individuals believed to have stolen a firearm from an officer during the melee.

“During the incident, the perpetrators attacked one of our men, stole his revolver and fled the scene with it,” he said.

He declined to comment on who the possible masterminds of the attack were, saying only that police were now questioning the 23 suspects from Kolo Bawah.

Dewa said initial indications were that the protest turned violent after the villagers failed to secure a meeting with the oil field head to complain about the operator’s failure to make good on welfare promises.

“They claimed that the operator had promised to connect their village to the electricity grid and bring in other utilities, but had failed to do so,” he said.

“When they came to the oil field to air their grievances, the boss wasn’t around to meet them and so they ran amok.”

He added that police had attempted to mediate in the dispute to prevent it turning violent, but to no avail.

Asgar Ali Djuhaepa, a councilor with the provincial legislature’s finance oversight commission, deplored the incident. He called it a severe setback to efforts to promote Central Sulawesi as an investor-friendly zone.

The violence in Tiaka has ruined the province’s reputation. Now we’re synonymous with conflict,” he said. “I fear this will have a huge impact on future investment here.”

Asgar called on the provincial and central governments to shore up security for strategic assets likely to be targeted by local communities. He also urged the Tiaka operators to make good on their promises to the villagers.

Dedy Askari, the head of the provincial human rights commission, decried what he called the police’s “iron-fisted” response to the protesters, saying it was regrettable that two people died.

“It must be kept in mind that these are all Indonesian citizens claiming what is owed to them by the company,” he said. “The authorities shouldn’t automatically side with the company. Don’t ignore local welfare for the sake of safeguarding investors.”

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