Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Kontu Case, like a Fire in Chaff

The Muna conflict began in January 2003. This land conflict, involving the Kontu-Muna traditional community and the Muna Regency Government, has found neither legal nor political resolution.

This case began with plans for expanding the city zone around Kontu. Implementation entailed the Muna Regent (La Ode Saafi Amane in the 1980s) settling about 50 households in Kontu. This no doubt gave rise to social envy among the community located in Labaha and Bangkali villages in Wali distrcit, who saw the area as their ancestral land. Throughout its development, this case has revolved around the conflicting claims of the Kontu community and the Muna Regency Government for the Kontu, Patu-patu, Lasukara and Wawesa regions.

On the one hand, the Kontu community is convinced that Kontu, Patu-patu, Lasukara and Wawesa regions are their communal ancestral land, which they have a right to inherit and manage according to ecological wisdom that has been passed down through generations. On the other hand, the Muna Regency Government considers the region to be protected forest in accordance with Law No. 41/1999.

This tug-of-war reached a climax when the Muna Regency Government attempted to forcibly evict the Kontu community. The Muna Regency Government not only forced them to move, but also burnt the homes and gardens of the Kontu community, and used violence causing permanent disabilities, and physical and psychological wounds to the Kontu community.

SWAMI, a member organisation of WALHI Southeast Sulawesi that carries out advocacy for the traditional communities of Kontu, Patu-patu and Lasukara, observed the conflict and report several facts and scenarios about the targets of the Muna Regency Government and how eviction of the traditional community in the Kontu forest region was carried out. This report also aims to explain (regional and central) government claims, which are always purportedly in the interests of ‘conservation’ and saving the environment.

First, the protected forest claimed by the Muna Regency Government is based on the Minister for Forestry Decree No. 454/1999. However, this document does not affirm in detail that the Kontu, Patu-patu and Lasukara regions are included in the claim. Moreover, the provision was made centrally without any community participation, to the extent that the determination of boundaries was not approved by the relevant agencies, namely the Agency for Land Affairs and the Governor of Southeast Sulawesi.

Second, the Muna Regency Government mismanaged the protected forest zone. This is evident from forest zoning policies delinating Jompi and Warangga as locations for Public Cemetary and Waste Disposal Sites. This is a digression from Law No. 41/1999 on Forestry.

Third, Kontu, Patu-patu, Lasukara, Wawesa and surrounding areas are in the Watoputeh community communal region. Historically, this region was owned collectively by the Katobu, Lawa, Kabawo and Tongkuno communities. The area is therefore actually the traditional land of these four communities, who have the right to manage it. However in the process of determining boundaries, the status of this region as being traditionally owned by these communities was not heeded and there is now overlapping ownership.

Fourth, although the Muna Regency Government previously employed the excuse that the Kontu region and its surrounds was a protected forest, the reason now used for evicting residents is that it is a green channel according to Regional Regulation No. 9/1997 on City Planning.

In view of these four facts, WALHI Southeast Sulawesi makes the following four recommendations:

First, the Minister for Forestry immediately re-evaluate Ministerial Decree No. 454/kpts-II/1999 dated 17 June 1999 on the Determination of Forest and Water Zones in Southeast Sulawesi Province, because this decree is used by the Muna Regency Government as an excuse to evict traditional communities and farmers in the Kontu region. It is a major trigger for agrarian conflict in Southeast Sulawesi, and pits traditional communities against regional governments. This has occurred in a number of regions including the Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park region, where it gave rise to a dispute involving the traditional community whose livelihoods depend on marine resources, which have been subdivided by the National Park; the Raya Murhum Forest Park conflict, which has pitted the government against the community residing around the Tahura zone; and other conflicts that remind us just how many of our traditional communities live around forest areas that the government have unilaterally designated as national parks, protected forests or community forest parks.

Second, immediately re-structure existing land and forest zones according to the communities around Muna Regency, using a community forest system model.

Third, immediately stop evictions and other acts of violence that violate human rights.

Fourth, the National Human Rights Commission to immediately take preventative action to stop conflicts occurring in Kontu, Muna Regency, to protect the human rights of the Kontu community, and pursue these so that decisions affecting the relevant parties are legally binding.

In its attempts to resolve the Kontu case, WALHI Southeast Sulawesi together with the Kontu community as represented by the Kontu People’s Organisation has had dialogue with various parties, covering political, legal, social, cultural and economic issues. Regarding the political aspects, the Kontu community accompanied by Arif Rachman, the executive director of WALHI Southeast Sulawesi, met with Commission IV of the Republic of Indonesia People’s Representative Council. At this meeting, Ganjar Pranowo (member of Commission IV of the Republic of Indonesia People’s Representative Council) requested that the community accompanied by WALHI make a road map for resolution of the Kontu case as it has unfolded and pursue this with the Department of Forestry. Moreover, the PDIP fraction of the Republic of Indonesia People’s Representative Council has issued a letter of appeal to the Department of Forestry to resolve the Kontu case peacefully and justly.

The Kontu community also approached the National Police Headquarters to report the conditions that they had so far experienced. The Kontu People’s Organisation even had dialogue with the Department of Forestry as represented by the Secretariat-General for Forestry and several competent staff who subsequently issued a recommendation for the formation of a team who would carry out a study to re-assess the status of the Kontu forest zone, as material for resolution of conflicts in the region using a persuasive dialog and just approach. Moreover, the Kontu People’s Organisation (headed by Aisyah), as a vehicle for the Kontu community and accompanied by WALHI Southeast Sulawesi, also held a meeting with Mr. Anang Yuwono (Southeast Sulawesi Regional Police Head), Adjunct Police High Commissioner (AKBP) Yudar L Lullulambi (Muna County Police Head), Mr. Paraminsi Rahman (expert staff, Muna Regional Forestry Service) and Mr. La Ode Sadikun (acting head, Southeast Sulawesi Provincial Forestry Service) at the Fajar Restaurant (31 May 2007). In this meeting, it was stated that the Regional Police Head did not have the authority to resolve this case outside of criminal and civil suits. Apparently, the issue fell within the jurisdiction of the Department of Forestry. In response to the Regional Police Head’s reply, the two representatives from Muna County Forestry Service and Southeast Sulawesi Provincial Forestry Service were unable to give a satisfactory reply regarding resolution of the Kontu case.

In fact, the Kontu community’s conflict with the Muna Regency Government is not that complex, if the government had good intent for resolution of the problem and invited community participation in forest zone management. This is because the existence of the community around the forest actually improves the security for forest sustainability, as local communities have an interest in protecting the function of the forests that they manage because this is the land that gives them life. The complexity of conflict resolution is linked to political issues, as is evident from the statement made by the Muna Regent in the Southeast Sulawesi local daily newspaper. He states that the evacuation of the Kontu region is ‘my political promise’. In the eyes of the Muna Regent, failure to clear out the Kontu region would be a personal failure that could have political implications. This is the arrogance of a ruler who personifies power as if it is clutched in the hand of one person, and forgets the main function of government, namely service of the people’s interests, not service of the Regent’s interests.

Even if conditions return to normal, it is therefore quite possible that the embers will fire up again unless the Kontu case is completely resolved.

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