Indonesia: Riau Protest Against Paper Company Won’t End Until Decision, Activists Say

Ezra Sihite Jakarta Globe 2 Jan 12;

Thirteen days into their protest against paper firm Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper outside the House of Representatives, demonstrators say they will stay put until at least this week.

The protestors from Padang Island in Riau province claim RAPP’s forest concessions encroach on their customary forests, a charge the firm strenuously denies.

Many of the protestors who have camped out in front of the House since Dec. 19, sewed their mouths shut in a symbolic act of defiance.

Forestry Ministry officials are expected to meet with the head of Riau’s Meranti district and authorities from Padang Island to discuss the protests.

Protest coordinator Muhammad Ridwan said that the meeting had to reach a decision regarding RAPP’s exploration in the area before they would return home.

The demonstrators claim RAPP’s exploration activities in the forests are destroying the environment, as well as encroaching on traditional farmlands.

Ridwan said that earlier, around 6,000 residents marched to the Meranti administrative offices, while protestors in Jakarta spread their demonstration to the Forestry Ministry.

Twenty-seven of the 82 protestors camped at the House sewed their mouths shut, but doctors later removed the stitches over concerns for their health.

There are also concerns about the protestors’ depleted funds, their treasurer Nurhadi said.

The Rp 30 million ($3,300) they had collected to embark on the protest had all been spent more than a week ago.

They are now counting on assistance — in he form of packed meals, rice, eggs and other basic goods — from Jakartans and people from Padang Island working in the capital.

“We’re also getting help from people at the Meranti Center,” Nurhadi said, referring to an organization set up by a Meranti native in Jakarta. “We don’t get stuff every day,” Ridwan said. “But people always help out where they can.”

RAPP officials stated that if the protestors could prove that the company was clearing forests that the villagers had customary rights to, RAPP would abandon its plans to operate in the area.

The company has also questioned the motives of the protestors and implied that they may not all be Padang Island natives.

“For all we know, there are ex-cons among the protestors,” RAPP president commissioner Tony Wenas said on Dec. 23.