Indigenous community in North Biak protests against aerospace project

The Indonesian aeronautics and space agency (LAPAN) has been planning the establishment of a space port in Northern Biak since 1980. During the ‘New Order’ era under the dictatorship of military General Suharto, the military forced the indigenous community in Saukobye to release their customary land to LAPAN. The ‘Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Desk of the Evangelical Church in Papua’ (JPIC-GKI) reported that the community now demanded the return of their ancestral land. A former military member tried to attack a GKI pastors and customary land rights holder who criticized LAPAN for lack of transparency and disrespecting FPIC principles during past negotiations over their ancestral land.



Case Narrative
On 15 April  2018, JPIC-GKI traveled to Biak after local community members had shared information regarding a meeting between indigenous community members, four army Generals, representatives of the Indonesian police and the local GKI Presbytery. The meeting took place in Andei Village and was organized in relation to the development of the LAPAN space port. During the meeting, the head of the GKI presbytery in North Biak, Rev. Abrauw, on behalf of Saukobye community expressed concerns regarding the government project. Rev. Abrauw is at the same time a customary land rights owner in Suakobye.

He explained that the indigenous community demanded the return of customary land  because an earthquake and a tsunami in 1996 had forced the Sukobye people to relocate the village and lead to the decrease of fertile land for gardening. He criticized that the land area would be too small for the space port and stated that LAPAN had failed to inform the villagers about the dangers and benefits of the project. Thereupon, a former military member named Lukas Krobo tried to attack Rev. Abrauw. The attack was prevented by police officers and villagers. The army generals asked the communities to sign an agreement for the release of customary land for the establishment of the space port.

Issues of Concern
The local communities have expressed the following concerns with regard to the establishment of the LAPAN space port in Saukobye:

1. The available land area (100 ha) is not large enough for a space port. Previous estimations by members of the survey team suggested a land size seven times larger than the land which is currently available, so more customary land may have to be released  
2. The results of a survey conducted by a LAPAN and China Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) survey team expressed concerns regarding the security zone of the site. General precautions suggest a security parameter of at least 5 km to settlements. Currently, many settlements are less than one km away from the LAPAN owned land, so villagers must be displaced or re-located from their ancestral land.
3. On 22 August 2002, (after 22 years) indigenous community leaders found a document on the release of customary land and a land certificate. From this document, residents found out that in 1980, community leaders originally approved only 15 hectares of land. However the land certificate states a total area of 100 hectares.

LAPAN has planned to build a space station in Saukobye Village, North Biak District, approximately 40 km away from the island’ s major city of Biak Town. LAPAN has estimated the use of 1,000,000 square meters (100 hectares) of customary land for the project. The project site is located at the northern coast of Biak, with direct access to the Pacific ocean. The legal foundation for the development of the space port is stipulated in the articles 44 to 50 of Indonesian Law No. 21 of 2013 about space travel. A draft master plan document for the establishment of the space facility suggests the finalization of the master plan until 2017. A feasibility study in 2016 should identify appropriate locations for the establishment of a space research center and a space port  until 2017. The Government has planned to launch rockets to deliver satellites into orbit.  

The first meeting between representatives of the Government, LAPAN, the military and villagers of the villages Andei  and Warbon already took place 1980, after LAPAN had conducted a land survey.  During the meeting, the former sub-district chief Alimudin Sabe tried to convinced customary land rights holders to give up ancestral land with a total size of 100 hectares for the space project. Both, the sub-district Chief and LAPAN did neither explain about the purpose of the project nor about the benefits and threats for communities nearby. At that time, the community members suggested a price of one billion Rupiah to LAPAN. The chief of the sub-district military command, Seargent Kamsi, considered the suggested compensation payment as an attempt to block the implementation of the government project and accused the community members of supporting the Free West Papua Organization (OPM) - an allegation which could have resulted in violent military raids during the so-called ‘New Order’ period under military dictator Suharto. Feeling threatened by these allegations, the indigenous clans Abrauw and Rumanderi finally agreed to release their ancestral land for the project.

Further meetings between the government and military representatives followed. On 21 August 2002, the villagers of Warbon were invited to meeting which was facilitated by the Chief Commander of Biak XVII / Trikora Military Command (DANREM). During the meeting, the  Warbon community through a spokesperson delivered a statement and requested a clear explanation about the benefits and threats of the project. The community asked why LAPAN continued to approach their community through the military, which would limit the land owners in their freedom to freely decide in the negotiation process about the land. In addition, the indigenous people of Warbon requested the Government to return 100 hectares of land to their community because the negotiation process ignored customary rights did not take place in accordance with the principles of a free, prior, informed consent (FPIC).

The community leaders of Saukobye Village continued to voice their claims during visits by LAPAN representatives. On Saturday, March 15, 2014, villagers blocked the road during a visit by the head of LAPAN Biak because the army had started to clear land at the LAPAN project site in preparation of a visit by the General Director of LAPAN on March 19, 2014. Indigenous delegates again delivered a statement rejecting the planned development of the spaceport, because the acquisition of their customary land disrespected FPIC principles. They were forced to sell the land far below its value. On 19 July 1980, the former government secretary Dolf Faidiban had given a compensation payment of 15 million rupiahs (approximately 1.000 Euros) for the land. The community leaders requested a direct meeting with former customary leaders, witnesses of the past agreement in 1980 and LAPAN representatives to re-negotiate the terms for the release of the community’s customary land.