An Indonesian palm oil executive was arrested on 8 November for allegedly ordering the killing of two journalists involved in a dispute between the company and local residents, Reuters reports.

Maratua Parasian Siregar, 55, and Maraden Sianipar, 42, were found dead 11 days ago with multiple stab wounds near an oil palm plantation in Labuhan Batu, North Sumatra province, the news agency said.

Police arrested the head of Amelia palm oil company, whom they identified as “H” or “Harry”, for allegedly paying several men US$3,000 to kill the two men.

Local media reports said H was businessman Wibharry “Harry” Padmoasmolo, who ran Amelia.

“The motive of the incident revolves around a land conflict case,” said North Sumatra police chief Agus Andrianto. “We believe that H instructed someone to get rid of the men … when they came to the property.”

Andrianto said H had denied the allegations, adding that four other suspects had been arrested, with another three still at large.

Reuters wrote that the oil palm concession where the two men’s bodies were found had been closed by the government in 2018 due to illegal forest clearing and the two activists had been working with local farmers to gain control of the palm oil there.

Sianipar and Maratua worked together for a local online news portal before going freelance in 2017, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, accounting for around half of global supply. In 2017, it produced 41.98M tonnes of palm oil and earned US$22.97bn in exports. However, the crop has attracted controversy due to environmental and social concerns.

The EU, for example, has defined palm oil as a high-risk indirect land use change (ILUC) biofuel feedstock. Member states must cap palm biofuel use at 2019 levels until 2023, before phasing it out by 2030.