The Auyu people strategise to defend their rights.

The problems around local objections to oil palm companies menacing the territory of the Auyu people around the Digoel and Ki rivers in Boven Digoel regency are not over yet. Now, local government has issued location permits to three new palm oil companies.

The three companies are PT Perkebunan Boven Digoel Abadi, which has been allocated an area of 37,010 hectares in Subur subdistrict, PT Bovendigoel Budidaya Sentosa, with an area of 30,190 hectares in Kia sub-district, and PT Perkebunan Bovendigoel Sejahtera, with an area of 39.440 hectares. These companies all come from Jakarta and operate from the same address: 11th floor of the Graha Pratama building, Jl. MT Haryono Kavling 15. The three companies were issued with location permits in decrees issued by the Bupati of Boven Digoel in November 2015.

The communities in Meto village in Subur sub-district and Watemu village in Kia sub-district, admitted to feeling anxious as company staff and government officials showed up, accompanied by organisers from the official indigenous association (LMA) of Boven Digoel Regency.

Lukas Kemon, a community leader from Meto village related that “The government and the head of the Boven Digoel LMA, Fabianus Senfahagi, brought the company here to take away our land. They didn’t hold a consensus meeting with the community, and we fear the company will destroy our entire forest”.

Some time ago, company staff and Fabianus Senfahagi, who as well as being head of the LMA is a well-known figure amongst the Auyu people and is head of Satpol PP (Civil Service Police Unit) in Boven Digoel, came to visit villages near to the Ki river, in Subur and Kia sub-districts. They attempted to persuade the community to accept the companies’ plans. Company workers also carried out a survey and entered the forest without the community’s permission.

Lukas Kemon gave a summary of the plans, promises and offers the company and government had made: They told us that the Auyu people should not continue to be poor, to live in poverty in the forest, asking for handouts and suffering. We’re bringing you a good company, they said, its leadership includes religious leaders, it’s sure to do good work. You have to accept these companies moving onto the Auyu lands.

In 2011, exactly the same thing had happened, community figures at the regency and sub-district level showed up with government officials and staff of the Menara Group oil palm company, approached the community, gave them donations, compensation money, and then asked for their agreement and signatures so the company could obtain land for an oil palm plantation. Tens of thousands of hectares of land and forest belonging to the Auyu people in Subur, Kia and Jair sub-districts is now in the company’s clutches, and meanwhile the community has descended into conflict and disharmony.

Lukas Kemon and other villagers from Meto village don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. They have discussed the matter and have strategised how to defend what is rightfully theirs, in the face of pressure from the oil palm plantation industry.

“We’re asking for time and space to hold a collective decision-making meeting with the whole of our wider family before we make our decision” said Lukas in response to the company’s offer, rejecting the company’s desire that the community make a quick decision

They are not shaken or pessimistic about being called poor and suffering.

“We may weep and suffer today, but because of not having sold our forest we, the Auyu people, will laugh and live more prosperous lives than anywhere else in the world. Our forests and sago groves will provide our livelihood” said Lukas Kemon, still steadfast and always optimistic. They do not want to lose their forests and their land.

The community will keep a close watch over the company and the organisations which support it. They will keep voicing their wishes to manage their forests themselves, with no need for companies or official indigenous associations.

Source: Pusaka

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