ONE year ago, on July 27, 2020, three tribes who live around the border between Indonesia’s Kampung Naga area in Boven Digoel, Papua, and Kampung Kuem in Papua New Guinea, sent a claim letter to Tunas Timber Lestari. Representatives of the Kuranop, Ekogi, and Gembenop tribes protested against operations carried out by the subsidiary of the Korindo Group, as it infringed their customary land.
The indigenous communities are worried that Korindo would repeat their actions the previous year of cutting down forests and setting up oil palm plantations through new permits and business subsidiaries. “We are very angry,” said Kaspar Ekogi, 68, in April this year. “We are treated like strangers in our own land.”
Tunas Timber Lestari was set up on April 20, 2010. It clinched 214,935 hectares of forest concession rights in Papua from Zulkifli Hasan, the forestry minister at the time. The concession encompasses the Jair, Kombut, Mindiptana, and Sesnukt districts in the Boven Digoel Regency, in the eastern part of Papua, bordering with Papua New Guinea.
The company’s owners are Kim Hoon, Arifin Tatang Nurshofwan, and Vinoba Chandra. Its initial capital of Rp5 billion was mostly provided by Pelayaran Korindo, while the rest was covered by Bade Makmur Orissa. Both companies are owned by the Korindo Group, a South Korean conglomerate that has been operational in Indonesia since 1969.
According to records at Ayamaru Sertifikasi, which assesses performances of sustainable forest management in 2018, Tunas Timber Lestari used to be called Tunas Sawaerma, which had a permit as a logging company in 1989. Tunas Timber’s operations only started in 2010 after it received a permit extension in 2009 from then Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban.
Kaspar recalled that in that year, Tunas Timber management gathered all the indigenous communities who owned lands in the Getentiri District. The company promised to improve the local communities’ welfare, health, and education, if they would let go of their lands. “Until now, we have received no compensation,” Kaspar said.
Gerson Gembenop, a prominent member of the Gembenop tribe, said that the company gave a profit sharing of Rp10,000 for each cubic meter of timber to customary land owners. That amount has remained unchanged since 2010. The money is given collectively to the village elder twice a year of Rp150 million.
The traditional village elder then evenly distributes that money to all community land owners, including their children. On average, each person receives between Rp500,000 and Rp600,000 a year. In fact, Gerson knows that the meranti (Shorea) wood from the local land sold by Tunas Timber is priced at between Rp5 million and Rp13 million per cubic meter.
Gerson further said that prior to Tunas Timber’s arrival, the community lived well. From hunting, fishing, and selling rattan, each person could earn up to Rp10 million a month. Gerson had worked as a temporary laborer at Tunas Timber, and said that his wages were frequently deducted without any clear reason. On average, wages for workers like him was around Rp700,000 a month. Meanwhile, the price of basic food material in Papua can be up to three times as expensive as prices in Jakarta. One kilogram of eggs, for example, costs Rp24,000 in Jakarta, while in Papua it costs as much as Rp40,000.
Tunas Timber management, Gerson continued, is not transparent about its logging plans. Consequently, the indigenous communities do not know when forests on their land would be cut down. “They cut the trees first, and ask for permission later,” said Gerson, 54.
In addition to logging, these customary forests are also cleared for the company’s road access. A report from the Manokwari Environment and Forestry Office’s Research, Development, and Innovation Agency said that on average, Tunas Timber’s main road is 12 meters wide, 30 kilometers long and the branch road is 8 meters wide, 70 kilometers long.
Lately, Tunas Timber also cuts Cina (Sundacarpus amarus) wood. This type of wood is processed and sold to the furniture industry. In fact, Kaspar Ekogi pointed out, this type of wood was not included in Tunas Timber’s work production plans. “This has exasperated us even more, as our forests are being destroyed,” he said.
The diameter of the logged Cina wood is also less than 40 centimeters, which is the minimum requirement for trees to be cut. Lately, these smaller types of trees have also been cut down. According to Indonesia’s Selective Cutting and Replanting regulations, a tree on 30-year arid planes is only allowed to be cut down if it is over 40 centimeters in diameter. As forests have been decimated, members of the three tribes have difficulty finding sago, the staple food of Papuans.
The problem is that the indigenous community are powerless. According to Kaspar, whenever they logged a protest, the police or military would be at their doorstep the following day. Facing such grave intimidation, traditional communities choose to stay mum. They are afraid that they would be accused of being separatists if they go against Tunas Timber.
The traditional communities cannot forget what happened in 2018. At that time Linus Omba, Kampung Naga village head, had a dispute with the Korindo Group. Linus’ customary land fell under the concession of Inocin Abadi, a subsidiary of Korindo. He erected a red cross four meters tall on the ground of Papua Agro Lestari, a palm oil plantation owned by the Korindo Group.
On that concession area, Linus also put up a sign with the Constitutional Court verdict No. 35/PUU-X/2002, saying that traditional forests are not state forests. Linus, 42, also put Indonesia’s red-and-white flag there, to make sure that he would not be branded as a separatist. Nevertheless, the police picked Linus up from his home and took him to the Asiki Police station. They then forced him to remove the cross and the flag. “They fired a gun near my ear,” he said.
Linus’ ire started when Inocin negotiated with the Marind tribe leader regarding the land that would be included in the annual working plans for the 2015-2020 period. The problem, Linus said, is that the land claimed by the Marind tribe is the customary land of the Ombas community, part of the Wambon Tekamerop tribe.
Between 2015 and 2018, Linus asked to negotiate with Inocin and to meet with the Marind tribe leader to straighten out their differences. “The company refused to be involved, and even asked us to negotiate through traditional customs with the Marind people,” he said.
Pusaka Tigor Foundation Advocating Manager Tigor Hutapea said that companies often initiated conflicts among community groups so that they are able to gain control over customary lands. “Customary law is often unable to come up with solutions because the companies dare to spend money to maintain support from communities,” he said.
Korindo Group spokesperson Yulian Mohammad Riza denied that his company’s actions have caused horizontal conflicts among Papua’s traditional communities. “The mechanism of obtaining permits from customary land owners has already been done according to procedure,” he said in a written statement on July 29. He explained that solving conflicts among the tribes is up to the disputing communities.
Korindo, Yulian continues, only acts as the permit holder. He claimed that the conflict between his company and the traditional communities has been resolved. As proof, he showed that Korindo has received recognition from the Tropical Forest Foundation through its social impact assessment study, as a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) indication that there is no conflict between the company and the community.
Asked about these conflicts, Boven Digoel Regent Hengky Yaluwo promised to summon the managements of all the companies in his jurisdiction in order to renew relations with the indigenous communities. “Companies here must prioritize the interests of the traditional communities,” he said. Hengky promised to remove those companies that do not provide prosperity for traditional communities.
Bu the FSC has moved ahead of Hengky. The non-profit forest management certification institution based in Bonn, Germany, rescinded Korindo’s certification on October 16. The FSC said that Korindo “failed to agree on independent verification.” One of the reasons for the certification removal was human rights violation within the company’s operations.