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23 Jul 2015

Jenny Denton, Jakarta Globe

Kalimantan residents claim they were intimidated in relation to BHP Billiton’s land acquisition

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"Resentment Lingers in Village ‘Tricked’ Out of Its Land", 14 June 2015

Residents of the village of Maruwei in Central Kalimantan claim they were tricked and intimidated in relation to BHP Billiton’s acquisition of an area of their land for the first stage of the IndoMet coal project a decade ago. According to Maruwei village secretary...villagers started clearing small trees and shrubs from an area of their customary forest which was to be compulsorily acquired for the mine because they believed they would be entitled to compensation for it if there was evidence the land was being cultivated. Then at a meeting in 2005 a BHP Billiton community relations officer gave them the impression the company would pay more for land that was also cleared of trees. Although the company representative did not explicitly mention payment and in fact told villagers he was not advising them to cut down trees on the land...he said BHP would be “more appreciative” of land that was logged, which would “make things easier” for the company...After the meeting, more than 70 Maruwei families spent months cutting trees and clearing vegetation...When village leaders were...called to a meeting with government and company representatives to discuss payment, they were informed that the land they had cleared was technically state forest and that BHP would make only “goodwill payments”...[S]everal people said they only accepted the deal because police came to the village and threatened them with arrest....“Many people didn’t want to sell the land at that price but the government came with police and told us we had to sell it to the company because if not we would be arrested,”...BHP Billiton has said its activities in relation to land acquisitions in the area were “at all times undertaken in accordance with legal and ethical business practices” and that decisions were made “transparently and based on consensus decision making by landowners.” Compensation payments were guided by government-based guidelines, the company said...“in a manner consistent with BHP Billiton’s commitment to ethics and integrity.”