Indonesian dam arouses protests

March 4, 1992

By Colin Pemul

Riau Province, Sumatra — The huge Kota Panjang hydro-electric power plant and dam project is currently under construction here.

The project will flood 124 square km of land, including a 1000-year-old temple site, and displace 10 villages housing 4485 families (roughly 23,000 people), as well as elephants, tigers and other animals.

A Japanese organisation, OECF (Overseas Economic Cooperation for Funds), is funding the $US290 million project on condition that the villagers agree to be resettled and to the amount of compensation, and that the wild animals are saved.

Construction of the infrastructure began in 1990 with funding from the Indonesian government. A road and one of the 10 proposed resettlement areas have been completed.

All the resettlement sites were once local people's plantations and were resumed against their will. Villagers who have visited the resettlement areas have reported that the new villages are substandard, and will reduce their living standards. This has led to violent confrontations between villagers and contractors.

The people have not yet agreed to the level of compensation, but the government has indicated prices. These vary according to the importance of the land, from Rp30 to Rp750 (US$0.37) per square metre. Tree plantations are to be bought per tree, with the price depending on the species and the health of the tree. Coconut trees vary between Rp1500 and Rp4000, rubber trees Rp1250 and Rp2000, durian Rp2000 and Rp4000, and other species between Rp750 and Rp8000.

Compensation for plantation workers must come from the compensation for trees and land. However, owners and workers will not receive any compensation or income until the project is finished in 1996.

A temple built in A.D. 900-1000 by the Sriwijaya Empire and believed to be paralleled by only one other temple (in Sri Lanka) is within 200 metres of the Kampar River, the river to be flooded.

The original water level planned for the reservoir, 200 m, would have flooded the temple site. An international outcry caused the proposed level to be dropped to 85 m, with a dam to be built around the immediate area to stop the temple from being flooded.

However, a senior teacher at the University of Technology in Yogyakarta claims that water will soak underneath the dam and still flood the temple grounds. Until now archaeologists have not done a thorough examination of the area; if the area is flooded it will be impossible for archaeological digs to take place, and important artefacts may be lost forever.

Five villagers from the area, accompanied by members of non-government Jakarta to protest against their treatment. At the House of Representatives, they were received well and were given a letter promising that there would be no reprisals when they returned home.

However, the delegation was refused entry to the Japanese embassy. An embassy official told the delegation, on the pavement outside, that it was a matter for the Indonesian authorities. The delegation replied that since the Japanese were funding the project, they would have to take some responsibility as well. The delegation received the same response at the OECF office.

The Indonesian Home Affairs Department, the Social Political Affairs Department and the Security Section all refused entry to the delegation.

Since the villagers' return, they have been harassed by officials in a nearby town, and in their own villages by the military.

The dam will provide 114 megawatts of electricity "for the people". It has been estimated that the people need only 4 Mw.

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