A government land-swap deal that villagers say threatens to swindle them out of their new holdings sparked a riot last Monday at Batu Layar in West Lombok in which the newly built local agriculture counselling agency office and a vocational high school were ransacked and a village hall broken into and then sealed off with protest banners.
A lone policeman from nearby Senggigi stationed at the agriculture office was unable to stop the rioters. But the mob’s attempt to reach the Batu Layar district office was blocked by police.
The mob, estimated by observers to be 300-strong, broke all the windows at the new office and damaged the doors and roof.
The villagers, all from Meninting between Mataram and the tourist resort of Senggigi, are angry over what they see as government trickery.
They agreed to swap 5,000 square metres of land where the agriculture agency and the school stand, in exchange for a 9,000-square-metre block of customary land in Sandik village.
But they say they later learned their new land was not on customary title — a class of title for land used by the indigenous community which includes certain traditional rights — but was owned by the West Lombok regency.
Ordinary title is not protected from future resumption by government. “They can just take back the land anytime,” said one Meninting resident, Iskandar.
At the district office, the villagers were allowed to air their grievances. They said the land they acquired in the swap deal was originally pecatu land (another form of community title) but had apparently been changed.
“Why?” asked another villager, Ali Marwansyah. “That’s just plain robbery.”
Batu Layar sub-district secretary Mutawali said he would follow up on the residents’ complaints.