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When Villagers in Bali Take the Low Road

Anarchic Destruction of a Portion of Bali's I.B. Mantra Highway by Villagers of Pering, Blahbatuh Condemned by Provincial Authorities.

(7/17/2011) Provincial authorities are labeling the actions of townspeople from the village of Pering, Blahbatuh as “brutal” that saw around 500 villagers destroy concrete curbs and dividers on a section of the I.B. Mantra Bypass Highway in Bali.

The incident occurred on Tuesday, July 12, 2011, when an estimated 500 villagers, dressed in traditional costumes, descended on the road with sledge hammers and other tools to demolish the median strip that they contended barred them direct access from their village to Saba Beach.

In a tradition reminiscent of ancient traditional warfare on the island, the village’s wooden kulkul was sounded at 6:30 am, summoning the village’s men folk to descend on the four-way roadway where they blocked traffic while they destroyed the median divider.

The villagers argue the road construction was done without first consulting the villagers, resulting in a barrier for religious processions that necessitated a detour of several hundred meters from their former direct path to the beach.

While a zebra crossing had been built to facilitate crossings, villagers were demanding a four-way intersection and a traffic light.

Villager were also angered by road signs installed by the highway project developers  that they contend mislabeled certain beach areas traditionally controlled by their village.

Prior to the public protest, Central Jakarta officials had acknowledged the demands of the villagers and promised to seriously consider various remedies. Those pledges, contained in a letter sent to the village chief, was only delivered at 10:00 pm the night before the protest ensued when, according to the village chief, it was no longer possible to call off the unilateral action planned for the following morning.

Members of the Bali House of Representatives (DPRD-Bali) have been quick to condemn the actions of the villagers. The Secretary of Commission III of the DPRD-Bali, I Gusti Ngurah Suryanta Putra, said the villagers had damaged the image of Bali and created a bad precedent

Other provincial authorities have joined the chorus of criticism, condemning the obstinate and recalcitrant attitude of the villagers.

It remains unclear whether the provincial government will rebuild the road structures destroyed by the villagers or if village officials involved in the case will be subject to criminal prosecution.