Land dispute navy shootings draw protests | Connect Asia

Land dispute navy shootings draw protests

Land dispute navy shootings draw protests

Updated 23 March 2012, 0:35 AEDT

Indonesian human rights groups have deplored the actions of a group of marines who opened fire upon a crowd of protesters in East Java on Wednesday.

Five people, including a young child, died in the incident which was sparked by the Navy's reclamation of land, which locals say they have farmed for more than thirty years.

HAMANN: Hundreds gathered yesterday to follow a procession of coffins through the East Javanese hamlet of Pasurun Pasur-wan. The four victims, among them a pregnant woman, were buried side by side at the local cemetery. Word quickly spread among the mourners of a fifth death, that of three year old Choirul Bin Sutrisno who died in hospital. His mother was among those killed.

About three hundred villagers are said to have gathered early Wednesday to protest attempts by the Navy to reclaim a patch of land long negeglected, and since used for farming and residences. A court recently ruled in the Navy's favour but locals say an appeal was in motion.

Indonesian human rights groups have deplored the shootings expressing concern that the military would resort to such force. Usman Hamid is the director of the Indonesian Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence.

HAMID: It seems that the people are still seen as the enemies. That's why they can easily use the guns, acts of use of force, bullets, and kill the people.

In the wake of the incident Indonesia's military Chief Commander Djoko Susanto offered his apologies. But a navy spokesman defended the marine's actions saying they followed standard procedures for dealing with a violent protest, and shots were fired only after the crowd began throwing rocks.

Speaking by phone the Head of the Marines Information Centre, Novarin, who goes by one name, claimed the marines had fired first into the air and then at the ground, causing the bullets to ricochet into the crowd and surrounding buildings.

NOVARIN: There were no guns aimed at the people, it was purely a bounce off. There is no way that we, the marines, when we knew how close we were to the people, would shoot at women and children. We don't have the heart to shoot at women and children.

But the Legal Aid Foundation says the victim's wounds indicate that the bullets were horizontal. More than 30 shells were recovered at the site and witnesses say at least one of the female victims was inside a house when she was wounded.

Usman Hamid says the military's attempts to justify their actions are a worrying development.

HAMID: I regret that the military leader seems to be trying to find a pretext, or justification, for what happened yesterday. This should not be happening. Don't react immediately by saying, look, because we were forced by the people. What should be done by the military is opening an investigation, helping the police, open up to the National Commision of Human Rights, so that we shall have an objective investigation. If we only try to find an excuse or pretext, it won't work.

The Navy says it has launched an investigation and will submit itself to a separate police inquiry. Any legal action is likely to be pursued through Indonesia's military court, an outmoded jurisdiction that Usman Hamid has little faith in. He says there will no accountability until such crimes are tried in civilian courts.

HAMID: Until today, we still have a military court that is trying all civil offences in their own facilities. This is what we call facility of impunity. All past abuses and recent abuses have always been brought to the military court, avoiding accountability to the civil court, or through the human rights court. In the world, only Burma and Indonesia still have military courts trying civil offences. This has to be changed.

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