Apr 22, 2024 Last Updated 1:12 AM, Apr 19, 2024

The occupation of Dongi-Dongi

Greg Acciaioli

What comes first, social justice or conservation? This article is the second in of a two-part series examining the rights of settlers in national parks.

Local peoples have resisted the establishment of Lore Lindu National Park since it was declared a game reserve in 1973 and then a national park in 1982. They felt its boundaries posed a threat to their customary land (tanah adat) and their traditional livelihoods. Some of these controversies have been resolved. The park office has recognised customary rights and even enclave status within park boundaries for groups such as the Toro and Katu communities. More recently, village cünservation organisations have been established to facilitate co-management with local communities. However, no resolution of the problematic relationship between the villagers and park management appears imminent, and the presence of the settlers is having serious ecological consequences.

Contested claims to land

The park co-administrators, the Lore Lindu National Park Office and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), claim Dongi-Dongi is a core zone for conservation within the national park. In the zoning scheme, recognised by Indonesian environmental law, core zones preýlude human habitation in the interests of protecting endangered flora and fauna. The park administrators argue that Dongi-Dongi’s status is unique in the Lore Lindu context because other core zones of the park are at higher altitudes with different flora and fauna.

The current occupants of Dongi-Dongi are mostly from communities of shifting cultivators who have been ‘resettled’ into villages by the government. Customary (adat) principles observed in the settlers’ home areas entitle those who first clear the land to its continuing use. Many of the men from the villages of Dongi-Dongi had planted gardens in the area to supplement their wages. Their employer, PT Kebun Sari, is a joint venture with Japanese capital which was granted a logging concession in Dongi-Dongi before it became a national park.

The difficulties in Dongi-Dongi began with government’s ‘Resettlement of Isolated Communities’ program. This program was administered in typical New Order forcible, top-down style from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Dongi-Dongi occupants claim that the Department of Social Affairs (Depsos) never gave them the two hectares of land suitable for agriculture promised under the program. As a result of land shortage, and subsequent enforcement of national park boundaries, many were forced to become wage labourers for concerns like PT Kebun Sari.

Sith NGO support, resettlers have organised themselves as the Free Farmers’ Forum (Forum Petani Merdeka, FPM). They want to assert their moral right to occupy the neighbouring land of Dongi-Dongi. This claim for social justice has been endorsed by NGOs in Palu, including the Central Sulawesi branch of WALHI, an Indonesian environmental NGO. In response, Depsos and park management officials assert that the occupants confuse entitlements promised by the Depsos resettlement program with those of the national transmigration program. They claim that Depsos fulfilled its own promises.

Ecological consequences

The rights of people from the resettlement villages to use land in Dongi-Dongi is also challenged by the indigenous community of Sedoa, whose members live at the northern edge of Lore Utara regency, through which the northeastern boundary of the park runs. They demand that current occupants be removed in order to protect this area as a watershed and thus to prevent flooding of their own agricultural lands.

In December 2003 a spate of flooding destroyed seven bridges and inundated thousands of hectares in the Palolo Valley with mud, trees, rocks and refuse, rendering the land unsuitable for agricultural use. TNC and the park office have argued that deforestation in Dongi-Dongi was the primary cause of such unprecedented flooding. In their view such environmental devastation justifies immediate, forcible relocation of the Dongi-Dongi occupants. WALHI’s Palu branch has countered that many other factors may account for the flooding.

A continuing stand-off

The situation in Dongi-Dongi remains unresolved. The Indonesian government has not initiated forcible relocation, while occupants and their NGO supporters have remained firm in arguing resettlers’ entitlement to this land. Complicating the issue of possiêle relocation is the fact that although the villages from which the occupants have come are located in Donggala regency, Dongi-Dongi itself lies within Poso regency. The devolution of many administrative responsibilities to regency (kabupaten) level under regional autonomy initiatives makes it difficult to determine which governmental officials or agency branches have the right to authorise and enforce such a relocation, if desired.

Greg Acciaioli (ariagl@nus.edu.sg) is based at the University of Western Australia and the National University of Singapore.

Inside Indonesia 80: Oct - Dec 2004

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