Riau Residents Protest Expansion of Elephant Park

Monday, 16 February, 2009

TEMPO Interactive Pekanbaru: Around 1,000 families from five villages in Pelalawan regency, Riau are petitioning President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's protection against being removed from their homes, to make way for the expansion of Teso Nilo National Park (TNTN) for elephant conservation. In the petition sent this week, they called on the government to care more for people's survival than that of elephants.

"It does not mean we are not supporting the preservation of forests and elephants, but we need to live as well. Therefore, we send this letter to ask the President to issue a policy to save us from this removal," said a petitioner, Hartiono, in Pekanbaru yesterday.

Accompanied by seven of his colleagues, Hartiono claimed he was threatened by the National Park's managers to move from their settlements before March. Yet, this palm oil plantation worker said, he had bought his lands from the village and sub district officials.

"We have complete documentation. Some bought their land from the village or village chief. None of us ever took over the lands. The expansion program is the one which is taking over our lands," Hartiono said.

According to Hartiono, they first cleared land for palm oil plantation in 1990. Previously, they land they had bought for Rp1,5 - Rp5 million, had been classified as abandoned forest concession areas. No less than 26.000 hectares of lands are run by the residents and 10.000 of them are now palm oil plantations.

"We accept being relocated, but the government must provide an alternative solution," Hartiono said.

Teso Nilo National Park manager, Hayani Suprahman earlier said his office had asked the 1.500 families many times to leave the National Park. "It used to be a forest concession area and was not intended for plantations. The company had given the location to be part of the TNTN's expansion. So it is not a matter of taking over the land," Hayani said.

The government plans to expand the National Park from the previous size of 38.576 hectares to 100.000 hectares.

Jupernalis Samosir

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