The palm oil company PT Andika Permata Sawit Lestari (APSL Ltd.) in Riau has denied that it disrupted investigation efforts conducted by the Environment and Forestry Ministry and also rejected the accusation that it had instigated locals to hold seven of the ministry's officials hostage.
Earlier on Friday last week, Environment and Forests Minister Siti Nurbaya pointed APSL as the most likely suspect in the mobilising of local residents to hold seven of its officials hostage and issue death threats to them.
Jakarta Post reported that APSL spokesperson, Novalina Sirait, said that the local farmers made the company their scapegoat on their actions.
“We are mentioned every time something happens on the local farmers’ lands. We don’t manage the local farmers.”, “We are not in the position to defy the ministry,” Novalina said Monday.
“The local farmers had spoken to the media. It was not a hostage situation. It was their own spontaneity because they felt they were not respected,” she said.
“The investigators came to a piece of customary land. They should have asked for permission if they want to enter someone’s property,” she said.
On the local residents' side, Riauonline reported the Village Community of Bonai in Rokan Hulu District denied accusations of any acts of hostage-taking.
Head of Bonai Village Empowerment, Jefriman explained that the people were not pleased with the way the seven investigators were conducting their investigation.
Jefriman said that the investigators entered into their territory without the consent of local community leaders. "In our tradition, if you enter a territory you need to ask for permission of the owner first; like, knock on the door first," said Jefriman on Monday, 5 September.
Jefriman further noted that it was because the investigators sealed the burning land which belonged to the farmers' groups. This is said to be on the basis that it is a criminal act to burn the land.
According to Jefriman, the residents had initially only wanted to ask the investigators of their purpose of investigation and their reason of entering their land without any permit, and not to take them as hostages. But they became angry with the investigator’s answers and the accusation upon the residents of burning the land.
If the investigators have entered with permission from community leaders, the community would even help with the investigation, Jefriman said.
The resident’s anger became uncontrolled when they knew the investigators had sealed the land and had images and video recording during the land concession investigation as evidence.
The residents then seized the investigators and demanded the images and video footage deleted and for the seals to be removed.
Menteri LHK perintahkan penanganan hukum 2.000 hektar lahan terbakar di PT APSL Kab Rohul Riau (Foto KLHK) pic.twitter.com/9UEXoWUxKp
— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_PN) September 4, 2016