Mobil Accused of Aiding Army Atrocities

R. Magellan magellan at
Wed Dec 30 11:21:14 PST 1998

>From Marko Ajdaric's site, called "Luta Continua"

RIGHTS-INDONESIA: Oil Giant Accused of Aiding Army Atrocities

By Pratap Chatterjee

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 29 (IPS) - Mobil, the U.S. oil multinational, is keeping a low profile as investigators probe allegations that it helped Indonesia's armed forces in massacres near Mobil drilling sites in the province of Aceh, northern Sumatra.

Business Week, one of the biggest magazines in the United States, last week published a six-page feature on the company titled: 'What did Mobil Know? Mass graves suggest a brutal war on local Indonesian guerillas in the oil giant's backyard'.

The revelations came shortly after two other U.S. companies - Freeport McMoRan of New Orleans and CalEnergy of Omaha - were accused of business malpractices in Indonesia by investigative journalists at the Wall Street Journal.

All three exposes were published in the last few months since the fall of General Suharto's 32 year-old regime has allowed new light to be shed on the roles of foreign multinationals in the south-east Asian country's affairs.

Mobil owns 35 percent of P.T. Arun, a liquefied natural-gas producer in Aceh while Pertamina, Indonesia's state-owned oil monopoly, holds the controlling 55-percent stake. Aceh provides an estimated 30 percent of Indonesia's total oil and gas exports or 11 percent of the country's total exports.

Mass killings and disappearances near the Mobil drilling site had been rumoured for a decade, ever since the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement), a local separatist group, began to attack Mobil installations in 1980.

Earlier this year the Human Rights Commission substantiated these rumours when they began to exhume the bodies of hundreds of people, who had been tortured and killed, from a dozen graves.

The Business Week article begins with a gruesome picture of an Indonesian soldier examining a skull dug up from a mass grave. The article quotes Mobil's denials but also points out that the company admitted providing food, fuel and digging equipment for the soldiers who guarded the region for three decades.

One former Mobil employee told Business Week rumours of massacres and unconfirmed reports that Mobil equipment was being used to dig graves were frequently discussed at workplaces and in a company cafeteria. ''Every time I drove out there (Bukit Sentang), the subcontractors stopped my car. They said, `No, don't go out there. Don't you know the army is killing people and burying them in mass graves with Mobil equipment?'' he said.

An estimated 39,000 people have disappeared since the region was placed under military occupation in 1980, according to local activists. In Bukit Sentang, after an estimated 150 bodies were found earlier this year, Baharuddin Lopa, secretary general of the Indonesian government-backed National Commission on Human Rights, said: ''This proves that Aceh has been a killing field''.

One male whose body was dug up had been blindfolded, dressed only in underwear, with his arms bound behind his back by an army belt. The area of the graves, an expanse of scrub between a forest and an oil palm plantation, is nicknamed 'Lubang Neraka', meaning the 'Holes of Hell' by local people.

On Oct. 10, a coalition of 17 Indonesian human rights organizations issued a statement saying Mobil was ''responsible for human rights abuses'' by providing crucial logistic support to the army, including earth-moving equipment that was used to dig mass graves.

This declaration prompted Business Week to send journalists to do detailed on-the-spot interviews with local people.

Yusuf Kasim, a local farmer who spoke to Business Week, said the army paid him four US dollars a night to stand guard over a borrowed excavator to prevent anyone from siphoning fuel from its tank. He said he watched soldiers execute 60 to 70 blindfolded Acehnese men at a time with M-16 rifles, shooting them in the back so they tumbled face-first into a mass grave across a rice field from his house.

The publication of the Business Week article caused a stir: the National Human Rights Commission announced on Christmas Eve that it would launch an investigation. ''We have to learn whether this information is accurate and clarify these reports,'' said Mohammed Salim, a member of the commission.

Michael Robinson, a press spokesman for Mobil at its Virginia headquarters, told IPS the company was not willing to discuss the matter beyond a short official statement. ''Mobil strongly denies the implications contained in the article, which are based largely on unsubstantiated allegations, rumours and innuendo about allegations that took place outside Mobil's operations and control,'' ran the statement.

But activists like George Ajitondro, an Indonesian academic who lives in exile, say Mobil's operations have also devastated local communities who depend on agriculture and fish farming, through forced relocations, numerous oil and industrial spills into the rivers, sea and bay, erosion of their riverside gardens and extreme noise pollution.

Indeed, gas explosions have plagued communities for more than 20 years. As recently as December 1997, some 1,600 people had to flee from their homes after three natural gas wells erupted, spewing tonnes of mud over their villages near Tanjungkarang and Dalam. Nine houses collapsed and 188 were damaged as a result.

In mid-1991, it was reported that around 60 percent of fisherfolk in traditional villages in the Lhokseumawe area were living below the poverty line, and were even close to starvation, because of critically low catches over the previous three years.

These environmental disasters are among the major reasons why local people have complained about Mobil, not unlike communities elsewhere, such as the Ijaw and Ogoni in Nigeria, who have faced similar problems as a result of multinational oil drilling.

Like the Acehese, the Ogoni and the Ijaw have suffered greatly for raising their voices against the oil companies. Chevron, a San Francisco-based oil multinational, was accused of sanctioning the killing of Ijaw protestors at a well site in Nigeria in May.

Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil multinational, has been found guilty of providing the Nigerian military with weapons to use against the Ogoni while British Petroleum has been accused of training Colombian soldiers who have killed protestors.

If nothing else, the public spotlight on Mobil has emboldened some local communities. Earlier this month four inhabitants of Desa Ampeh in North Aceh took Mobil Indonesia to court for 10 billion rupiah (1.33 million dollars) for forcibly taking their land and a cemetery to use as an airfield.

But Mobil's Robinson says that he believes that the lawsuit has no implications for the U.S. parent company. ''We couldn't have taken anything from anyone in Indonesia, because we don't own anything in Indonesia, no land, not even a car.''


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