Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) rangers have arrested a Navy sailor on suspicion of illegal logging in the Leuser Park protected forest in Langkat regency, North Sumatra.
The latest arrest brings the number of Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel arrested in the past year for illegal logging to four, according to TNGL centre head Andi Basrul.
Andi said Tuesday that the sailor, "H", was arrested along with two civilians as they attempted to haul away 4 tons of illegally logged timber from the Sekoci Block in the Leuser Park's Besitang district, Langkat regency, early on March 16.
Andi added that soon after H's arrest, his colleagues from the Marines in Pangkalan Brandan came to the TNGL office in Medan, North Sumatra, to demand their colleague's release.
"There were 15 Navy personnel who came to the office. They demanded that H be released, but we refused. Fortunately, they did not turn violent," said Andi.
He added this was the first time the office had been approached by Marine personnel demanding the release of a colleague. Andi said although they did not resort to violence, their presence was a form of intimidation.
"It was tense when they arrived, but it did not deter us from thoroughly investigating the case involving the soldiers," Andi said.
He added that his office handed all illegal logging cases involving TNI individuals over to the Military Police, and would do so for H as well. The TNGL office expressed the hope that the maximum punishment would be imposed.
So far, punishments on illegal loggers have been exceedingly lenient. Earlier, three state agency heads in Kotacane and Tapaktuan, Aceh, were sentenced to just six months probation for their involvement in illegal logging.
Andi expressed concern that continuing to hand down light sentences for illegal loggers would actually encourage more individuals to engage in the illegal activity.
"Currently, 30,000 hectares in TNGL in North Sumatra have been deforested. I'm sure destruction will worsen without stern law enforcement," said Andi, adding that damaged areas in TNGL currently reached 140,000 hectares.
Sgt. Maj. Rojali, from the Navy Military Police detachment in Belawan, North Sumatra, said H's case would be processed in line with applicable law. Rojali added his office would not enforce the law selectively against errant soldiers.
A study by the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program (WCSIP) recently found that rampant poaching and habitat loss in the biggest forest block in Northern Sumatra was reducing populations of already endangered animals, including Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants and orangutans.
The WCSIP noted that the rhinoceros population in TNGL currently stood at between 20 and 30 individuals, a drop from around 60 in the 1980s, while the Sumatran tiger population currently stood at only 100 compared to 150 in the 1990s.
The current population of orangutans in the Leuser ecosystem area has dropped to 6,600 from 7,500 10 years ago.
With habitats in supposedly protected forests threatened by deforestation, more and more orangutans have reportedly been invading human settlements and destroying crops near TNGL areas in Aceh and North Sumatra over the past decade.
The central government made the Leuser area a national park in 1980 and UNESCO named it a biosphere reserve in 1981. The park is reportedly the only place in the world where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses still live together.