|Subject: FT: US court orders Exxon to
answer Aceh suit
Financial Times (UK) January 18, 2007
US court orders Exxon to answer Aceh suit
By John Aglionby, Jakarta correspondent
ExxonMobil must respond to a lawsuit alleging Indonesian soldiers under its control at a natural gas plant in Aceh province abused and murdered local people, a US appeals court has ruled.
Judges in Washington rejected the energy giant's second request to dismiss the suit brought by 11 Indonesians who claim the Texas-based company is responsible for the conduct of soldiers guarding its sprawling Arun facility on the northern tip of Sumatra island.
Their lawsuit, filed in 2001, says soldiers kidnapped, abused, sexually assaulted and killed people on ExxonMobil property in a region which at the time was mired in a separatist insurgency. The suit could be filed in Washington under a law that holds US companies liable for violations of international law overseas.
The court rejected US State Department arguments that the case could undermine the war on terrorism in Indonesia, which Washington regards as a key battleground. The government's protests have lost much of their credibility since Jakarta and Free Aceh Movement rebels signed a peace deal in 2005.
Agnieszka Fryszman, the Acehnese's head lawyer in Washington, expressed delight that the court vindicated her clients' position that ExxonMobil "essentially privatised" the soldiers, "in spite of their well-documented history of abusing Indonesian citizens".
"It means the plaintiffs will be able to continue to gather evidence to prove their claims," she said.
ExxonMobil staff in Jakarta referred all inquiries on the case to the company's corporate headquarters.
Faisal Hadi, coordinator of the Aceh Human Rights Foundation, said the plaintiffs were by no means guaranteed success. "But this case will act as a very important precedent to push the Indonesian government to take action on the thousands of human rights cases that are pending."
Under the autonomy arrangement granted to Aceh as part of the peace process, all human rights cases from the 29-year insurgency will be heard in a special court. This is to be set up by July under the autonomy law passed last year.
State Department attempts to bring a similar case against Rio Tinto, the mining company, were dismissed in 2002 after Washington warned it could harm US interests in Papua New Guinea.
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------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service
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