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Interview with Sarwadi Sukiman, Chairman of Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI) Jambi: “SPI never rejected negotiation and is in favour of conflict resolution”

Interview with Sarwadi Sukiman, Chairman of Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI) JambiInterview with Sarwadi Sukiman, Chairman of Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI – Indonesian Farmers Union) by email. Thanks to Rivani Noor of CAPPA for the translation.

REDD-Monitor: What is SPI’s response to the letter REDD-Monitor received from the Germany’s International Climate Initiative, describing the negotiation process set up in June 2012?

Sarwadi Sukiman: We believe that PT REKI is not serious about taking a negotiation approach and they are not in favour of a non-violent approach to resolve the conflict that peasants are facing. PT REKI is using a legal-formal (state law) approach to resolve their conflict. In the field, when they come to talk to the peasants, they always explain that they have a legal permit from the Ministry Forestry, they have a legal concession by state law, whereas the peasants are illegal do not have a permit by state law. The farmers are outsiders and forest encroachers.

Some facts explain how PT REKI is not serious about conflict resolution:

  1. PT REKI did not obey an agreement with SPI to decrease security around SPI’s claimed area, even though PT REKI built new security camp.
  2. PT REKI also brought heavy machines that pressure the peasants, and when the violent actions were carried out it December 2012, the heavy machinery was used to destroy peasant houses.
  3. PT REKI also made a condition that the police arrest two SPI basis leaders, Pak Dedi and Pak Nadeak. This case angered SPI members and made them disappointed with the negotiation process.

REDD-Monitor: According to the International Climate Initiative, “The process has been rejected by the groups claiming affiliation to SPI. Reasons for blocking can only be speculated.” Is it true that SPI rejected the negotiation process? And if so, please explain why.

Sarwadi Sukiman: SPI never rejected negotiation and is in favour of conflict resolution based on a non-violent approach, if it is all done the right way. All parties should have the same position. PT REKI should not feel that they have a superior position over SPI simply because they have a permit from Ministry Forestry.

SPI also never backed up or supported any illegal loggers. Instead SPI has declared against the illegal loggers. Similarly, we never support land speculators.

One criticism that SPI has of the way that PT REKI field staff work is that they always communicate with land speculators and not formally with the SPI organisation. PT REKI staff then claim that they have communicated with SPI, but this is a false conclusion.

REDD-Monitor: How many of the farmers living inside the Harapan Rainforest Project area are affiliated with SPI?

Sarwadi Sukiman: About 700 families, around 2,000 people. They live in the area of Pangkalan Ranjau, Bukit Sinyal, Sungai Jerat, Tanjung Mandiri, Alam Sakti, Bahar Subur and Sialang Batuah.

REDD-Monitor: Harapan accuses the farmers of settling in “the heart of some of the best quality forest”. Is this true? Are SPI farmers associated with illegal logging that is going on inside the Harapan Rainforest Project area?

Sarwadi Sukiman: We don’t know where good quality forest is, we just know how we manage the land to live from it. We think it would be better if PT REKI sat together with us to discuss about this.

Again, I say that SPI never cooperates with illegal loggers.

According to our investigations, we have found that in fact illegal logger actors also come from PT REKI internal employer. PT REKI staff have collaborated with the illegal loggers. We have the facts, sometime we will publish these facts!

REDD-Monitor: Are there any public statements from SPI about the negotiation process and the evictions that took place in December 2012?

Sarwadi Sukiman: SPI has released a public statement in which the core of our call is to reject PT REKI’s violent approach to resolve conflict, also against the carbon conservation project.

REDD-Monitor: What is the current position with Harapan and SPI?

Sarwadi Sukiman: SPI will continue the struggle to secure our land, and demand that the Forest Ministry revise the PT REKI permit to exclude the area claimed by SPI.
 

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  1. Disappointing, but I have to repeat more or less my 19 December 2012 comment : I think it is pretty clear what solution Chris would recommend SPI’s aim is to facilitate immigrants to cut down the last remaining lowland forest in Sumatra and settle there. As Chris will know, but pretends not to know, the great majority of the “local communities” (over 95%) are recent frontier migrants from other areas. And tomorrow, and next year ad nauseam. That means he wants everyone who comes into the area to give their consent to keeping forest. Which of course the majority will not do. Which means he advocates total loss of lowland rainforests in Sumatra (and noting with increasing alarm that Harapan is the very last lowland forest in Sumatra with a hope in hell of being retained).

  2. Dear Chris

    We are disappointed to see that according to your article Pak Sukiman appears to reject the legal basis under Indonesian law for PT REKI’s operations, and the points raised by Sukiman are, once again, unsubstantiated and one-sided, and in our opinion do little to help in finding a practical solution. Contrary to the views expressed in your article PT REKI has offered a negotiation process, which has not been accepted, and our often repeated offer to meet and discuss remains open.

    In response to the specific allegations made by Sukiman we would like to make the following corrections:

    1. PT REKI is obliged to protect the concession area in accordance with the licence agreement we hold from the Government of Indonesia, but as we have demonstrated before has gone beyond our obligations to actively seek a mediated approach to solving these issues; 2. PT REKI uses heavy equipment to build and maintain our road network so we can restore the forest as described under the licence agreement we have with the Government of Indonesia. We have never used heavy equipment to destroy houses in December or at any other time; 3. The people Sukiman mentions who were arrested by the legal authorities were arrested simply because they broke the Indonesian law – destroying property and kidnapping PT REKI staff, both of which are serious criminal offences.

    We would also like to repeat that PT REKI does frequently attempt to enter dialogue with all groups in Harapan, and would (still) welcome a constructive dialogue with SPI Jambi.

    However, during our attempts at mediation, whenever the discussion has moved towards adhering to the laws of this country, SPI members have always protested and/or have left the negotiation process. PT REKI believes that Indonesia should be governed in accordance with the Indonesian law, and are disappointed that this view does not appear to be shared.

    We would like to, yet again, stress that no evictions took place in December and no one was arrested. Moreover, the action in December was not called by PT REKI but by the Indonesian authorities in accordance with Indonesian law.

    Finally, we feel that these articles do little to help us to find a solution to this issue that supports the conservation of biodiversity, the rights of indigenous communities and is in accordance with the laws of Indonesia. PT REKI believes that forest restoration in collaboration with the local and indigenous communities is a viable option, and we would very much like to understand what YOU think should happen to Indonesia’s forests.

    We would therefore welcome an equivalent opportunity for an interview as you have with Pak Sukiman, and the results of that interview to be given verbatim on the REDD Monitor website. We would be happy to meet with you at a mutually convenient time.

  3. @John Payne – As you know, but seem to have forgotten, I replied to your 19 December 2012 comment – my response is here. It includes this sentence: “Just to clarify, I do not advocate total loss of lowland rainforests in Sumatra. Neither do I believe that “fortress conservation” will preserve the forests.” You responded by saying, “First apologies to Chris. Your reply shows patience, not embitterment.”

    Regardless of where the SPI farmers came from, the fact is that they are now living inside the Harapan project area. I think that talking to SPI and other people involved is worthwhile. Part of the reason I interviewed Sarwadi Sukiman was to clarify why SPI rejected the negotiation process. It turns out that they haven’t. They also oppose illegal logging. Which is probably good news, isn’t it?

  4. @Kim Worm Sorenson – Thanks for your comment. I’ll be in touch in the next week or so to arrange an interview.

  5. Regarding violence etc, perhaps REDD Monitor might like to ask SPI what actions it has taken regarding the murder of two Bengkulu farmers in late February and the kidnapping and beating up of two others who were clearing protected forests in Jambi without the permission of the local SPI chapter.

  6. @nenekkincai – Thanks for this comment. It would be great if you could provide some background about these murders. I hadn’t heard about this. Links to news articles would be useful. Thanks!