Fallen Rifle on Trespassed Lands
Residents who resisted the construction of Lambo Reservoir in East Nusa Tenggara were being intimidated. The government rejected the suggestion of the community to shift the construction to another location.
CARRYING a machete and rope wrapped around his waist, Gaspar Radja walked from his house to his field in Rendu Botowe village, Nagekeo, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), on Saturday morning, October 24. He was on his way to tend his field and craft bird traps, as part of his daily routine.
Arriving at his field, Gaspar was surprised to see a small crowd had gathered there. There were armed police officers, personnel from the Nagakeo regency administration, as well as land officers measuring the land. Gaspar’s arrival halted the activities. “I was asked why I had a machete and rope,” he recalled the incident to Tempo on Monday, December 14.
Gaspar answered, saying that he brought the two items to tend to the field and catch birds. He asked the officers to promptly leave his field. He had never approved the land measuring and was not planning to sell his three-hectare land for the Lambo Reservoir. The plans to build a reservoir that dams Se River requires 432 hectares of land.
Gaspar’s demand escalated the situation and he was held down by the police officers. He was barred from entering his field so that the other officers could continue the land measuring. As he was being held down by the officers Gaspar yelled, “Help! I’m being arrested by officers.” He said that not long after that, some residents who were nearby came. Because there were quite a few people that came, said Gaspar, the officers stopped what they were doing and left the premises.
Lusia Ando experienced a similar incident of officers trespassing on her property. The 52-year-old woman shouted at a number of officers who were in her field on October 23. “I told them they’ll die soon if they don’t leave,” said Lusia. According to Lusia, upon hearing her curses, the officers scampered away and climbed over the surrounding fences.
Residents guard their land which is included in the Lambo Reservoir construction plan, facing off police officers in Rendu Butowe village, Nagekeo Regency, East Nusa Tenggara. / Mongabay/Willybrodus Be’i Ou/FPPWL Nagekeo
In a rush, Lusia recounted, an officer got caught on the fence, and dropped his rifle before he escaped. The officer scurried without picking up his gun. Lusia then brought the rifle back to her home. The next day, several officers came by and asked for the weapon to be returned. The officers promised Lusia Rp50,000 or US$3.55 in return for the gun, which Lusia refused initially, but after being mediated by the village elders, Lusia returned it.
The land for the Lambo Reservoir is located in three villages, namely Rendu Butowe in Aesesa Selatan subdistrict; Labolewa in Aesesa subdistrict; and Ulupulu in Nangaroro subdistrict. If the construction plans continue, according to the Deputy Chairman of the Lambo Reservoir Development Refusal Forum, Wilibrodus Bei Ou, at least 6,000 residents will lose their homes and livelihoods. Gaspar and Lusia’s fields are among the targeted locations for the reservoir.
According to Philipus Kami, chairman of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) of the Islands of Flores, Solor, Adonara, and Lembata, officers have been increasingly aggressive in measuring lands and enforcing development since 2015. Apart from the Gaspar and Lucia cases, according to Philipus, incidents of officers entering lands without permission have also happened to other residents.
Philipus said that the reservoir development plan started in 2001. At that time, the community had refused and the government stopped construction plans. According to Philipus, the government begun to build the Lambo Reservoir again after President Joko Widodo made a speech in NTT in December 2015. At that time, Jokowi set the construction of seven reservoirs in NTT as a national strategic program. Two of the seven dams have been completed, namely the Reknamo and Rotiklot dams. The remaining five include the Lambo Reservoir.
At that time, Jokowi said that the construction of the reservoir was to provide clean water. If water is available, Jokowi continued, residents there can plant corn, sorghum and other agricultural crops. “Hopefully, after it is built it will bring changes to NTT,” said Jokowi during a speech at a Christmas celebration in Kupang, December 28, 2015.
Nagekeo Regent Johanes Don Bosco Do said the local government already deployed a number of civil servants with the assistance of the police to continue the construction plans of the Lambo Reservoir. Among other things, the officers were asked to measure the area. “Everything has been surveyed and cannot be moved to another location,” he told Tempo on Tuesday, December 15.
Furthermore, according to Johanes, who is also a member of the National Democrat (NasDem) Party, the government has disseminated the dam construction to the community. One of them was carried out jointly with the ministry of public works and people’s housing at the end of last September.
Regarding the role of the police in overseeing the construction of the Lambo Reservoir, the Chief of the Nagekeo Resort Police, Adj. Sr. Comr. Agustinus Hendrik Fai could not be asked for comment. Telephone calls and messages from Tempo have not been answered.
Residents’ desire to move the reservoir construction site has already been conveyed to the regional and central governments. This emerged from the discussion of three indigenous communities, namely Rendu, Lambo, and Ndora, whose lands will be used for the Lambo Reservoir. “We agreed that the construction site would be moved to Lowopebhu or Malawaka, (and) not in Lowo Se,” said, Wilibrodus.
According to Wilibrodus, the community expressed their aspirations because residents rely on the land in Lowo Se for their livelihood and part of it is customary land. Therefore, the Forum has sent a letter to the National Commission on Human Rights regarding the alleged human rights violations in the construction of the Lambo Reservoir. Two years later, the Forum sent a letter to President Jokowi to stop the dam construction and withdraw police from the site.
Chairman of the Forum for Rejection of Land Procurement and Measurement for Ndora Indigenous Peoples, Siti Aisyah, said that the community had confiscated land measuring instruments from officers. This was done because of deadlocked discussions between the community and the government. “We are not against development, but its location. This land is from our ancestors and for our lives,” she said. “Our children can also go to school because we live and earn money on this land.”
Regent Johanes Don Bosco Do ignored this refusal. According to him, the reason residents reject development is “a contrived melancholy way to prevent development from running.” He said the development will continue because the auction process for the dam construction has been completed. “This is for the public interest,” he said.