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ExxonMobil to face lawsuit over Aceh operation

Article published on the 2008-08-28 Latest update 2008-08-28 15:48 TU

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (R)with Parliament speaker Agung Laksono (L)(Photo: Reuters)

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (R)with Parliament speaker Agung Laksono (L)
(Photo: Reuters)

US oil giant ExxonMobil is to face a lawsuit in the US over allegations of its implication in killings and torture in Indonesia's Aceh province. Judge Louis Oberdorfer ruled that the 11 plaintiffs - villagers who have filed the case anonymously - have provided "sufficient evidence, at this stage, for their allegations of serious abuse".

The suit accuses ExxonMobil and ExxonMobil Oil Indonesia (Emoi) of "killings and torture committed by military security forces protecting and paid for by Emoi", according to a court document.

The villagers claim that the company's Indonesian subsidiary was complicit in torture, rape and at least two murders by soldiers.

Oberdorfer ruled that case could go forward, but dismissed the suit against the group's two US affiliates, Mobil Corp and ExxonMobil Oil Corp.

ExxonMobil has argued that the lawsuit contravenes a "constitutional principle" that foreign affairs should not be handled in US courts. In 2006, a spokesperson said that it "created the potential for any US company operating overseas to be held vicariously liable for host government actions".

Human rights campaigners in Jakarta and Lockseumahwe, where ExxonMobil's Aceh operation was based, have long alleged that the company helped the Indonesian military in a dirty war against the separatist Free Aceh Movement, Gam, in return for protection of its activities.

The Gam signed a peace deal with the government in 2005.

"There are some estimates that more than 10,000 Acehnese were killed since the Indonesian military started military operations in 1979," journalist and rights campaigner Andreas Harsono told RFI.

The court's ruling could also have implications for Freeport McMoRan, a US-based company which says that it paid 9 million dollars (6 million euros) to Indonesian military and police to protect its mine in Papua province, where a separatist movement is still active.