JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia’s president has ordered an investigation into the videotaped beheadings of two men — allegedly by security forces hired to secure the borders of a palm oil plantation.
Six suspects — five plantation workers and a farmer — already have been arrested for their alleged role in the deaths, national police spokesman Col. Boy Raffli Amar said Friday. Eight other suspects are at large.
Indonesia is one of the world’s largest producers of palm oil — used to make everything from lipstick to biscuits to biofuel — and the rapid expansion of plantations across the sprawling archipelagic nation of 240 million has led to many violent disputes with local communities.
Land is often forcibly seized — also by timber, pulp and paper companies — without any offers of compensation. But the allegations by farmers from South Sumatra province, if confirmed, would be by far the most shocking so far.
A dozen men, accompanied by a retired general, traveled to the capital, Jakarta, earlier this week to present their case before Parliament’s human rights commission.
They told its members at least 30 farmers have been killed by security forces and men hired by a palm oil company in Mesuji district since 2009 — two of them beheaded in April.
They presented two video clips as evidence, though one appears to be unrelated to the dispute.
In the first, a decapitated corpse is shown hanging from an electricity pole in Mesuji, according to witnesses. Then it jumps to another headless body on the ground, masked men, some toting assault rifles, milling about in the background.
Next, two bloody heads are shown on the roof of a truck, also in Mesuji.
The other clip appears to be unrelated, however, possibly from the separatist insurgency in southern Thailand, judging from the dialect and words of the assailant.
It shows a man dressed in camouflage standing in the woods, an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, holding onto a freshly severed head by the hair. “Fathoni Darussalam,” he says triumphantly, using the cry of Pattani separatists in southern Thailand. “Freedom! Freedom!”
Ifdhal Kasim, who heads the National Commission on Human Rights, condemned the killings.
But the details, he said, remain very murky.
There appear to have been several, separate deadly clashes in the last year between farmers and three palm oil companies in Mesuji — which straddles South Sumatra and Lampung provinces.
As concession sizes grew, he added, thousands of people were driven from their homes.
Facing protests, one of the companies formed an integrated security team, consisting of civilian guards, members of an elite police unit and military troops to protect their plantation, he said.
“It’s not clear who was behind the beheadings or the other killings,” he said. “But if there’s even a hint that security forces were involved, they should be investigated first.”
Farmers also appeared to have killed at least five plantation workers and security guards in retaliation for the beheadings, he said.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, meanwhile, said he was shocked by the claims.
He immediately sent a task force made up of officials from the Ministry of Security and the national police to investigate, according to his spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha.