Dayak community leaders arrested over palm oil company protest in Kalimantan

Source – March 1, 2021
Dayak community members block palm oil company access road in Long Bentuk – January 30, 2021 (Kompas)

Zakarias Demon Daton, Samarinda – Three leading figures from the Dayak Modang Long Wai traditional community in Long Bentuk village, Busang sub-district, East Kutai, East Kalimantan, were arrested by police on the afternoon of Saturday February 27.

The three people arrested were Dayak Modang traditional community head Daud Luwing, Secretary Benediktus Beng Lui and East Kalimantan Regional Traditional Council member Elisason.

"They were grabbed by force from their car by fully armed police as they were travelling home after collecting data on assets in the Dayak Modang Long Wai area in Long Bentuk village", said Dayak Modang Long Wai Traditional Community Coalition spokesperson Yohana Tiko in a press release received by on Monday March 1.

Tiko, who is also the director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) East Kalimantan chapter, said that based on a video and information received by the coalition from the community, the car Luwing, Beng Lui and Elisason were travelling in was surrounded by police vehicles and fully armed officers.

"So the traditional community defenders were unable to resist and they were taken directly to the East Kutai district police in Sangatta", he explained.

Tiko suspects that the arrests are related to a road closure protest action which resulted in blocking the distribution flow of a palm oil plantation company.

The customary community setup a roadblock and put up banners with the messages such as, "Return our customary land", "Stop depriving customary communities of their rights" and various other demands on January 30.

The road closure had long-term consequences including a report filed with the East Kutai district police. Kutai Timor district police criminal investigations unit chief Deputy Police Commissioner Abdul Rauf said that they received four complaints about the road closure.

He denied however that the three community figures were arrested. "Saying they were arrested is wrong. What happened was we picked up the three figures to speak with investigators as witnesses", said Rauf when contacted by on Monday.

The three figures, said Rauf, had failed to fulfill a police summons without giving a valid reason on two occasions. Because it was the third summons, the three were picked up by police.

"We have already questioned them (the three) as witnesses and we sent them home last night (February 28)", he said.

Rauf also denied that the case was related to the palm oil plantation company. According to Rauf, the reports were genuine criminal complaints because they obstructed a public road and disrupted the function of the road.

The Dayak Modang Long traditional community has been in dispute with PT Subur Abadi Wana Agung (PT SAWA) over 4,000 hectares of customary land. According to the community, PT SAWA took control of the land for a palm oil plantation stating that the land had been compensated for.

Daud Luwing says that the case began when the company PT SAWA arrived in the area. The decision was based on East Kutai regent decree Number 22/02.188.45/HK/I/2006 on a permit for a palm oil plantation covering 14,350 hectares in Busang sub-district on January 18, 2006.

Luwing said that 4,000 hectares of the PT SAWA concession, for which it did not have a permit, intruded onto Dayak Modang Long Wai customary land in the Long Bentug Village.

In a written release, PT SAWA's General Manager Licence and Corporate Social Responsibility, Angga Rachmat Perdana, said that case began in 2015 when there was a shift in the boundary between the Long Pejeng and the Long Bentuq villages.

The shift in boundary resulted in part of the Long Pejeng Village becoming part of the Long Bentuq Village. PT SAWA, he said, has already compensated the Long Pejeng Village for the land before the change in boundaries.

"At the time all of the plots of land belonging to and controlled by the community were compensated for by involving a nine-person team and the head of the Dayak customary community and the three villages, namely the villages of Long Pejeng, Long Lees and Long Nyelong", wrote Perdana in the release received by on Saturday February 13.

The dispute between the Dayak Modang community and PT SAWA was mediated by the East Kutai regency government on Wednesday February 10. The mediation resulted in several agreements, one of which was on the issue of a partnership with farmers supplying palm oil to the company.

Later however, the community decided that the agreement had hurt them financially and continued demanding the 4,000 hectares of land be returned. They even asked the Environment and Forestry Ministry to intervene to resolve the land conflict.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Tangkap 3 Tokoh Adat Dayak Modang Long Wai, Polisi: 2 Kali Panggilan Tak Hadir".]