|I was there... just got out after hiding from police (23/9/2005)|
The following item about the brutal attacks recently made on a meeting of peasant farmers by the Indonesian authorities, while not related directly to a GM issue, is a reminder of the pressures and repression poor farmers face in many countries around the world.
It is also a reminder of the extraordinary way in which Monsanto's GM seed was first brought into Indonesia with the Indonesian military riding shotgun for Monsanto.
According to the Jakarta Post, "A total of 40 tons of genetically modified Bollgard cotton seed arrived at the Makassar airport from South Africa amid strong protests... The authorities had apparently concealed the seed's arrival from the press... but at approximately 1pm on Thursday The Jakarta Post noticed a Russian Ilyusin transport plane ... unloading the seed in the airport's military area. The wide-bodied plane ... was tightly guarded, and reporters and photographers were barred from approaching the plane. Members of the Indonesian Air Force guarding the area said that reporters must back off for security reasons."
----- Original Message -----
On the morning of September 18, 2005, at approximately 9:00AM, Indonesian police forces violently dispersed a peaceful gathering of about 1000 peasants in Tanah Awuk village in central Lombok, Indonesia. The peasants had gathered together to launch a week-long series of activities to commemorate Indonesia's National Peasants' Day on September 24th. More than 300 invited guests, including students, members of Serikat Tani NTB (the local peasants union) and peasant farmers from 12 other provinces were expected at the meeting. Also invited to this meeting was an international delegation composed of peasant leaders from La Via Campesina, human rights specialists, and researchers from the Land Research Action Network (LRAN), who were in Lombok to attend a National Symposium on Agrarian Reform organized by the Indonesian Federation of Peasant Unions (FSPI).
After first granting a permit for the meeting and then mysteriously withdrawing it at the last moment, both regular and special forces (Mobile Brigade) police arrived with one water canon vehicle, sealed off access to the area and ordered the meeting to disperse. The peasants, who were from the local area, were un-armed and peacefully assembled in front of a simple stage that they had erected for the meeting.
According to eye-witnesses and journalists, the police made an unprovoked attack on the crowd, which included women and children, spraying them with tear-gas and gunfire, consisting of mostly rubber and plastic bullets, with some metal rounds mixed in (this was evident from an examination of more than 60 spent and unspent casings collected from the scene of the attack). Thirty-three peasants were injured, 27 of them with gunshots, and the others from police beatings. Those shot included at least one child and two women. More than 10 peasants were arrested, and included those detained at the scene, as well as others from among the injured who were dragged from their beds at the local hospital later in the day. Police then issued arrest orders for other peasant leaders, and the situation remains very tense.
The more than 300 strong delegation of mostly Indonesians, plus the internationals, was stopped at Praya in central Lombok sub-district (approximately 15 kms from Tanah Awuk) by the police and not permitted to proceed further towards Tanah Awuk. By this time, the meeting has already been violently dispersed. Access by lawyers, journalists and supporters to those who were arrested was denied by the local police on grounds of safety.
Video images repeated throughout the week on Indonesian national television networks included horrifying footage of an unarmed women being violently dragged for about 30 meters across very rough ground by two running police officers, and a man bleeding profusely from the head being roughly thrown against a pickup truck by a policeman grabbing onto his hair.
The local peasants of Tanah Awuk had planned to use the meeting with the Indonesian and international delegation to discuss their ongoing struggles since 1995 against the construction of a new international airport and to prevent confiscation of their farm lands for the airport site.
Late last month, local peasants held rallies to protest the scheduled arrival of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the Tanah Awuk area to attend the ground-breaking ceremony to mark the long suspended start of the airport's construction. FSPI also organized protests in Jakarta in front of the Presidents Palace and the National Human Rights Commission, and meetings with the National Parliament against the ground-breaking ceremony. The Yudhoyono Administration recently issued a government regulation allowing the state to take over land to be used for the construction of public facilities, even if no agreement has been reached with farmers residing on the land. The regulation stipulates 21 types of development projects--including airports--that allow land to be confiscated. This new decree has raised public concerns and protests throughout Indonesia due to the fear that it would intensify the already common practice of arbitrary eviction for projects that typically respond more to land speculation and tourism development schemes than to the needs of local populations. Lombok already has an attractive and modern airport, which would only require modest lengthening of the runway to accommodate international flights. Such land disputes are quite common in Indonesia, with many cases of arbitrary eviction and land take-overs by the government and private investors. In this case, the airport construction apparently involves major private investment from Europe, and is linked with plans to construct luxury retirement facilities for wealthy foreigners. In other words, the Indonesian Government is applying the principle of eminent domain to benefit private, rather than public interests.
Land confiscation and grabbing, forced evictions and involuntary resettlement of local communities to make way for large infrastructure projects (such as dams, highways,