More than 1000 police and military personnel were mobilised yesterday, 16 February 2016, in the latest move to force villagers in Kulon Progo off their land to make way for an airport. The police and military were used to allow the government to begin scoping of the land. The local community that have organised resistance to the land grab immediately gathered in response to the presence of the police and military in their villages. The community’s requests for negotiation were rejected and instead their gathering was met with heavy repression. As recounted in the community’s press statement:
“Violence like a rain of punches and kicks as well as other forms of intimidation by the police. Even to the point where children were trampled on when the police were breaking up the gathering of villagers. There was a local that was also strangled and fainted. Even several of the peasants’ possessions including a motorbike and a table of chilli seeds were damaged. This was all because the police used force and violence to gain entry.”
Plans for the construction of an airport in this coastal rural area began in 2011 when the government signed a contract with an Indian investor. Since then the local, regional and national government have been trying to find ways to force the villagers off their land. The community however has been there for generations and make a living by planting chillies, peanuts and melons. Culturally the land is also significant to them, and even from an environmental point of view the community are concerned construction of an airport would put the area at risk of a tsunami as natural sandbanks would be destroyed.
Their protests have been met with heavy repression and intimidation. Pak Agus, one of the community leaders, received a visit from police dressed in plain clothes one night a few weeks back. As he opened the door two guns were held up against him, left and right above his waist. They warned him to stop protesting, to just accept the airport construction and be quiet. But Pak Agus and the rest of the community will not be quiet as they know that they have rights to the land and that if they lose their land they will lose their livelihood, culture and community.
This is not a unique story in Indonesia. Currently there are hundreds of such projects being implemented with the same harsh repression and disregard for the local communities. The victims are many, such as Salim Kancil who was murdered in September last year in East Java for protesting the development of sand mining. The community in Kulon Progo are worried that it will only be a matter of time before their struggle also results in a death. In the repression yesterday alone 15 locals were injured.
Messages and statements of support can be sent to Pak Agus at email: firstname.lastname@example.org