INDONESIA: On Wednesday (23 Aug), a significant gathering unfolded as thousands of indigenous individuals from Batam City converged in front of the Office of the Batam Free Trade Zone and Free Port Concession Agency, often referred to as BP Batam.
This demonstration was prompted by the community’s resolute opposition to the relocation of 16 ancient traditional villages situated on Rempang Island and Galang Island.
The necessity for relocation arose due to the ambitious Rempang Eco City mega project. This project envisions an integrated industrial, trade, and tourism zone designed to enhance competitiveness vis-à-vis neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.
The project itself is a direct result of an agreement inked by the Batam City Government, BP Batam, and PT Megah Elok Graha, with an investment target of a staggering 381 trillion rupiah (US$20.7 billion) by the year 2080.
During the demonstration, the community put forth a set of four demands to Muhammad Rudi, the Head of BP Batam. These demands included:
1. A resolute rejection of the relocation of the 16 traditional villages on Rempang Island and Galang Island.
2. Dissolution of BP Batam.
3. Acknowledgment of residents’ customary and ulayat land.
4. A cessation of intimidation against those opposing relocation.
Subsequently, representatives from the Malay Youth Alliance engaged in negotiations with the BP Batam leadership.
However, these discussions, which spanned nearly an hour, did not yield a satisfactory outcome.
Dian Arniandi, Chairman of the Malay Youth Alliance, revealed that the initial demands of the community were amended during negotiations. The revised demands consisted of:
1. BP Batam, in conjunction with representatives of Rempang residents, held a meeting with the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, and the Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, to convey their aspirations.
2. BP Batam committed to involving RT/RW (neighbourhood administration) officials and residents in delineating land use boundaries.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the negotiation outcomes, the negotiation letter was dramatically torn up before the assembled crowd, who responded with enthusiastic cries of “Long Live the Malays!”
Furthermore, the demonstration did not remain confined to Rempang residents alone; it garnered support from 50 Malay community villages in the Riau Islands.
This demonstration at the BP Batam office, featuring thousands of residents from Rempang and Galang Islands, was not a singular event.
On Monday (11 Sep), another demonstration unfolded at the same location.
In addition to residents of Rempang and Galang, the demonstration also drew participants from the Batam Malay Marwah Defenders Army.
While the initial stages of the demonstration were peaceful, chaos eventually erupted.
Thousands of residents resorted to hurling flares at law enforcement officers, followed by throwing bottles, stones, wooden objects, iron pliers, and slingshots.
Ultimately, they breached the BP Batam office premises. Once inside, the crowd continued their onslaught, pelting the facility with stones and extending their attacks to surrounding areas, including the office canteen.
Regrettably, these actions resulted in injuries to BP Batam employees and dozens of police officers, as well as substantial damage to buildings and vehicles parked in the vicinity.
In response, law enforcement authorities utilized water cannons and tear gas to disperse the unruly crowd.
In a press release issued on Monday (11 Sep), by BP Batam, Ariastuty Sirait, the Head of the Public Relations, Promotion, and Protocol Bureau, expressed deep regret over the tumultuous turn of events during the demonstration at BP Batam.
“We are profoundly saddened and disheartened that the opportunity for constructive dialogue between the alliance representing the Rempang community and the government devolved into such chaos,” said Tuty.
She further noted that many Rempang residents had already registered for permanent housing offered by BP Batam and emphasized the conducive conditions in the area.
“Conditions in the field are favourable; people have begun registering at the available Command Posts and Contacts. It is our collective duty to safeguard this peace. Let us provide comfort to our citizens by maintaining a harmonious atmosphere,” Tuty concluded.
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